In the first half of Saturday’s consolation game against Haverford in the Skip Coleman Memorial Tip-off Tournament, you could literally count State College’s first-half field goals on one hand.
As in five.
But in the second half, the Little Lions allowed two fingers less than that — three.
State College outscored Haverford 30-10 over the final 16 minutes as the Little Lions rallied for a 43-31 triumph, getting first-year coach Joe Walker his intial victory of the season.
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State College (1-1) held the Fords to five points in the first, third and fourth quarters.
The final two periods were the key.
Behind 10 points from Jimmy Roe, the methodical Fords outscored State College 16-6 in the second quarter to take a 21-13 halftime lead.
“They were a really patient team offensively and defensively and they weren’t making mistakes early,” Walker said of Haverford. “We weren’t necessarily sticking to our game plan., We tried to run a few things that we hadn’t put into practice to take advantage of our size disadvantage. I made the mistake of trying to push something on them that we didn’t go over in practice. In the second half, we went back to our normal offense and they ran it well.”
The Little Lions also brought fullcourt pressure, which made Haverford pick up the pace. The Fords had just one basket in the third quarter.
Michael Caswell’s pressure helped force a couple of early turnovers, which the Little Lions coverted into baskets. Cooper Gulley’s 3-pointer tied the contest at 26-26 and Alex McCann’s two free throws gave the Little Lions 28-26 lead heading into the final quarter.
“The key was the two guards up front rotating to cover the middle,” McCann explained. “Once they did that, Caswell got two steals. They couldn’t handle that. It bothered them.”
“You saw a little glimpse of when we run our press the right way that we can get some turnovers,” Walker said. “And, we have guys that are fast and can finish.”
The pressure also helped State College with the pace of the game. Haverford would often hold the ball between 30 and 60 seconds to shoot.
“They slowed it down and we kind of got stuck in that mode,” Walker said of the first half. “We’re kind of a hybrid. We need to be able to run stuff when we need to and play fast. We never got off to the start to being aggressive. They lulled us.”
The methodical play worked against Haverford in the final period as State College began to pull away. Gulley nailed another 3-pointer and Caswell had a basket as the Little Lion lead grew to 33-26.
After a Haverford bucket, McCann followed a miss on the break with a rebound and a 3-point play. Tyler Hall and Caswell added hoops and the margin ballooned to 40-28 with 1:18 left. Both coaches emptied their benched with a minute remaining.
Caswell’s 12 points paced five State College players who had at least six points.
“Our top eight or nine guys I’m confident in,” Walker said. “I kind of go with a hot hand. ... I’m really confident in my bench.”
Last season, the Little Lion offense worked primarily through one player. McCann, who scored eight points and made the all-tournament team, likes the different approach.
“It just means they have to guard more guys,” he said. “ If they have to guard one guy, they can shut him down. If they have to guard four, it opens up for everyone. Anyone can score.”
McCann also likes what he sees so far as the Little Lions try to rebound from a 4-21 mark from last season.
“It feels different this year, better,” the senior center said. “It feels right.”
Roe had 11 to lead Haverford. Fords coach Keith Heinerichs was not available for comment after the game.
State College next hosts Cumberland Valley on Tuesday.