State College coach Joe Walker pointed to the scoreboard as he started to talk to his team at the end of the third quarter.
It showed the Little Lions extended a four-point halftime lead to 14.
State College limited North Allegheny to seven points in the quarter.
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The Little Lions’ improved defensive effort helped them secure a season-opening 77-71 victory Friday night in the Skip Coleman Tip-Off Invitational. Drew Friberg scored a team-high 26 points and went 15 for 17 from the foul line for State College (1-0), while Brandon Clark added 14 and Tommy Friberg had 12.
“I was just happy with the way the guys came out with the amount of energy they played with,” Walker said.
State College will take on Math, Civics and Sciences, an 81-75 winner against La Salle College on Friday night, in the tournament championship game at 3:30 p.m. Saturday. La Salle College and North Allegheny will play in the consolation game at 1:30 p.m.
North Allegheny’s Curtis Aiken finished with a game-high 27 points against the Little Lions.
Aiken burned State College on backdoor cuts, drilled 3-pointers and created for his teammates in the first half. He scored eight points in the first quarter to help the Tigers build a 25-21 lead.
Aiken’s 3 in transition pushed North Allegheny ahead 31-21 in the opening minute of the second quarter.
But State College chipped away at the lead and received a spark from Ryan McNulty.
The 6-foot-5 junior threw down a right-handed dunk in transition to pull his team within four points in the second quarter, bringing the home crowd to life. The Little Lions fed off the energy as Keaton Ellis came up with a steal moments later and finished a layup to continue to cut into the deficit.
“He always dunks in practice every single day,” Clark said of McNulty. “We usually always have a dunk contest at the end of practice.”
Clark said McNulty usually wins.
McNulty was fired up after his jam.
“It made me hype, the team hype,” said McNulty, who finished with nine points. “Everybody in the gym just went nuts and I love it.”
During a timeout shortly after his dunk, Walker had a message for McNulty.
The coach wasn’t caught up in the excitement about the dunk — he reminded McNulty to get back on defense.
That was Walker’s concern going into halftime with his team ahead 41-37.
The Little Lions’ communication was lacking in the first two quarters. They weren’t getting back after North Allegheny broke the press, and their zone defense didn’t work, either.
So they went back to man-to-man in the third quarter.
“Third quarter was much better,” Walker said. “You go from an average of almost 19 a quarter to seven. We want to hold people to under 12 so I was really happy with that effort change.”
State College held Aiken scoreless in the third quarter.
Isaac Barnes accounted for North Allegheny’s only two field goals in the period as State College built a 58-44 lead.
“We had a lot of momentum coming out of the locker room in the second half,” McNulty said. “And I think the fans and the atmosphere really helped us make those defensive stops in the second half.”
Drew Friberg helped State College seal the win in the fourth quarter, going 8 for 8 from the free-throw line and finishing with 10 points in the period.