State College has handled Altoona twice in boys’ basketball this season.
One of those decisions was a 31-point blowout.
But the Little Lions (12-10) are expecting anything but an easy game as the two battle in their biggest meeting of the season — Thursday’s District 6 Class AAAA Championship Game at Mount Aloysius College in Cresson.
“I told the kids that they can’t expect just because we beat them already twice that Altoona is just going to lay down for them,” said State College coach Joe Walker, whose team defeated Altoona 76-45 on Jan. 10 and 68-56 on Jan. 22. “They have been playing really well. I think they are a different team that we played earlier in the season. They’ve improved a lot and we’ve improved since the last time we played.
“Our records are 0-0 right now. We have to make sure we’re ready for them to play their best game.”
The Mountain Lions (9-12) have proven Walker’s point. They won five straight to close the regular season, including a 58-57 win over Williamsport, which defeated the Little Lions 62-55 in their regular-season finale.
“They’re size is their strength,” Walker said of Altoona, whose lineup features 6-foot-7 Jermaine Samuel, 6-foot-5 Jayvion Queen and 6-foot-3 Jacob Port. Isaiah Wansley (6-2) and Bobby Corl (6-0) are also dangerous. “They want to get the ball inside. We have to make sure that we play good post defense against their bigs.
“We also have to make it difficult for them to bring up the ball. We need to try disrupt them when the bring the ball up the court and put pressure on their wings so that they can’t make easy entry passes.”
The Little Lions counter with a very balanced attack. Freshman Drew Friberg paces the State College offense with an 11.7 scoring average. The Little Lions also get solid scoring from Alex McCann (10.4), Tyler Snyder (8.1), Mike Caswell (8.1) and Tyler Hall (7.7).
“They can’t key on anyone individually,” Walker said of the Little Lions’ opponents. “We have threats from the post. We have threats from the outside and guys that can finish in transition. I think we take pride that we don’t have one really great player, but when we all play good games we’re much better as a team.
“There have been times this year where a couple of people have broken out and scored 20, but from night to night you don’t know who will be your leading scorer. That makes it difficult for another team to prepare for us.”
The Little Lions will play for the first time in nearly three weeks. They haven’t played since Feb. 7.
“We don’t want to want to think of that as an excuse,” Walker said. “It’s kind of nerve-racking to think we haven’t played in that long, but we have a great group of players who can simulate game speed in practice. We’ve stayed in shape and we shouldn’t be rusty. I’m sure the game speed will come back to them quickly.”