Lady Little Lions take fifth straight tournament title

STATE COLLEGE — It’s hard to find much fault with the way the State College girls’ basketball team is playing right now.For the second time in as many nights, the Lady Little Lions turned in a solid outing at both ends of the floor, and it resulted in yet another decisive victory.

Emily Suhey led three players in double figures as State College cruised past Penn Manor in the championship game of the Kiwanis Holiday Basketball Classic 72-33 Saturday night.

“That’s a very impressive team,” Comets coach Bob Graybill said. “We were just a bit overwhelmed.”

The Lady Little Lions (10-2) won their fifth straight title and their 11th in 19 tournaments.

“We just wanted to finish out December going 10-2,” Suhey said. “We wanted to win these last two games and it’s good that we did.”

Suhey, who is averaging a double-double this season, had another one Saturday with 21 points, 13 rebounds and six blocked shots. It was her fourth 20-point night of the season. Chrissy Cooper added 16 points, four 3-pointers, five assists and three steals. Kelsey Guth had 13 points and six steals, Tara Branigan posted nine points to go with seven assists and Meghan Hart had six rebounds and five assists.

Just like Friday’s semifinal win over Perry Traditional, State College used plenty of teamwork to set up buckets, with 21 assists on their 28 baskets.

“Emily Long did a nice job on Cooper in the first half, but you just lose her for a second and those guys make shots,” Graybill said. “They have so many weapons, and the assists — it was just like (Friday) night’s game.”

The Lady Little Lions have been pretty efficient on offense so far this season, averaging 62 points a game. Eight of their wins have been by at least 18 points.

One night after shooting 50 percent from the field, State College was nearly as sharp by making 48 percent (28 for 58) of its attempts.

“We work hard to get people in a good position where they can take a good shot,” Branigan said. “I think we did that really well.”

The Lady Little Lions also turned in a strong night on defense with 15 steals to help the Comets turn the ball over 20 times.A big key was shutting down Penn Manor’s Kelsey Caruthers, a solid 6-foot-1 post player who is headed to St. Francis. One night after scoring 29 points in a semifinal win over Strath Haven, Caruthers was held to 11 points and 10 rebounds, and she took just eight shots from the floor.

“We wanted to front her and get some backside defense,” Suhey said. “We tried not to let her touch the ball and it worked pretty well with what we tried to do.”

Caruthers hardly touched the ball even to kick it back outside to a teammate for a long shot, and it left the Comets taking mostly 3-pointers. It helped result in a 29 percent shooting night from the field.

“The times we had single coverage we didn’t find her,” Graybill said. “I said we were going to have to shoot the ball well tonight. I said, ‘Look for shots from the wing when she’s on the opposite side. She can go get it off the glass and earn it herself.’”

It also helped that State College’s own 6-1 Division I post player, the Villanova-bound Suhey, stayed out of foul trouble. She picked up her second infraction midway through the second quarter when the lead was just 13 points, but she was never cited by the officials again.

“Emily plays very smart,” State College coach Bethany Irwin said. “I’ve watched her grow as a player. She used to foul out a couple times her freshman year and now she really understands it.”

Alyssa Torres hit a 3-pointer not long after Suhey was called for that foul to cut the margin to 10, but that was Penn Manor’s last highlight for a while. Suhey hit a three and Katie McDonald put back a miss to close the half, and the Lady Little Lions scored 17 of the first 19 points after the break to put the win away.

“We tried to work our offenses and they worked really well,” Suhey said. “We go the open shots and took the shots pretty well.”

Notes: Strath Haven dropped Perry Traditional 66-61 earlier Saturday in the consolation game. ... Bianca Ygarza added nine points for Penn Manor (8-4). ... Named to the all-tournament team were Cooper, Suhey, Caruthers, Long, Perry’s Jaime Reed and Strath Haven’s Lindsay Rowland. ... State College plays at Altoona on Friday.