STATE COLLEGE — The State College boys’ basketball team knew there would be no free passes against Altoona. There never has been in this vibrant rivalry.
So instead of waiting for the Mountain Lions to give an inch Wednesday night, the Little Lions went out and grabbed a foot.
The Little Lions neutralized Altoona’s decided height advantage in the post and dominated the rebounding battle with plenty of old-fashioned blue-collar effort, which went a long way in helping them to a 46-34 victory before an unusally subdued crowd.
“We needed to execute the offense and do what the coaches were telling us to do,” said State College forward Colby Way. “We also needed to get some rebounds.”
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So they did.
Despite facing an Altoona frontcourt that featured starters Matt Lytle (6-foot-5), Alphonso Lewis (6-2) and reserve Matt Gehret (6-6), the Little Lions owned a 34-19 edge in rebounding. Way, a broad-shouldered 6-2 sophomore, along with sturdy 6-3 senior Jake Reeder were the main reasons why. Neither is afraid to bump and battle for position and against Altoona, they frequently won the spot.
Way came off the bench and was credited with game-high nine rebounds to go with his four points.
“When you have three post players like Altoona has with Lytle, Gehret and Lewis, they are so good on the glass,” said State College coach Drew Frank. “You can’t afford to make mistakes as far as positioning inside because they are going to hurt you.”
Frank credited assistant coach Rudy Burruss for his dogged work in preparing the Little Lions to take on Altoona’s big men.
“He worked on it specifically the past two days,” Frank said. “Such a critical part of this (game) was going to be that we had to box out and go get the ball. I think he really did a nice job of getting our guys focused on that.”
Altoona coach Larry Betar was disappointed with team’s effort on the boards.
“I think it came down to who wanted to win more,” Betar said. “They really battled and banged on the boards and came up with way too many rebounds. Our big kids weren’t aggressive enough in pulling those rebounds down. That was a key to the game. Give credit to State College but we need to do a better job when we get our hands on that first rebound.”
Jamar Smack and Bryan Good score 10 points apiece to lead State College (5-6).
Caleb Angle had nine to lead Altoona (6-5).
The Mountain Lions carried a slim 18-17 lead into halftime but only after they went the final 5:33 of the first half without a field goal.
Altoona then went the first 4:55 of the third without a bucket — a total of 10:33 — but State College failed to capitalize. Alex Raymond’s 3-pointer with 3:05 left in the third ended the drought and cut the Little Lions’ lead to 24-21. Lewis’ three-point play off a putback tied it at 24 at the 1:08 mark but Good put State College back on top with a free throw before Bernard Smack’s steal led to a three-point play to give the Little Lions a 28-24 lead after three.
From there, the Little Lions, who used 11 players in the first half and 12 total, seemed to wear down Altoona. After Jamar Smack hit a slick, step-back jumper over Angle to make it 36-29 with 3:52 left, Angle countered with a 3-pointer at the other end to make it a four-point game. Jamar Smack answered that with short jumper in the lane to push the lead back six at 38-32. The Little Lions went 6-for-6 from the free-throw line down the stretch to close out their second straight win.