The State College boys’ basketball team started to play too fast.
The Little Lions dribbled into traffic and threw ill-advised passes as Math, Civics and Sciences generated turnover after turnover in the second half of the Skip Coleman Memorial Tip-Off Tournament championship game Saturday.
With each turnover, the Mighty Elephants continued to chip away at State College’s seven-point halftime lead before taking control and holding off a late Little Lions’ comeback for a 68-65 win.
“I think turnovers were the story of that game,” State College coach Joe Walker said.
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Walker called the tournament a learning experience for the Little Lions (1-1) as they’ll have to learn how to slow down and handle pressure better throughout the season. The coach saw flashes of the team’s potential with top scorers Drew Friberg and Tommy Sekunda surrounded by a talented supporting cast.
Friberg and Sekunda were named to the all-tournament team along with Mighty Elephants stars Malik Archer and Tymir Johnson. Archer finished with a game-high 25 points, and Johnson had 14.
State College’s all-tournament duo contributed to the team’s sharp first half. State College got off to a fast start and held the lead for the first three quarters. The Little Lions went ahead 10-2 in the opening minutes and stayed ahead behind Friberg’s 10 points in the first quarter.
Friberg burned MCS with a combination of mid-range jumpers and finishes inside and netted 14 of his 22 points in the first half. Sekunda had 10 of his 21 in the first two quarters, helping State College take a 35-28 lead into halftime.
MCS coach Dan Jackson called his team’s defensive performance against Friberg in the first half “unacceptable.”
“He killed us,” Jackson said.
The Mighty Elephants stuck with Friberg in the third quarter, limiting him to one field goal and two free-throw attempts. And their pressure defense started to wear State College down and created opportunities in transition.
MCS pulled within 48-46 going into the fourth quarter and took its first lead of the game when Johnson blew through the State College defense for an easy layup with 5:42 left. The Mighty Elephants led 50-49.
Three straight Little Lions’ turnovers followed, and MCS pushed its lead to 56-49.
“They got us to do what we didn’t want to do — play a little bit faster,” Walker said.
State College put together a comeback behind the 3-point shooting of Sekunda and Friberg. Sekunda drilled three 3-pointers to keep his team close going into the final minute.
He couldn’t get a stepback 3-pointer to go, but State College got the rebound and Friberg knocked down a 3 from the corner to cut MCS’s lead to 65-63 with 36 seconds left.
With MCS ahead 67-65 23 seconds later, Archer had a chance to put the game away at the foul line. He only hit one of two, giving State College a chance to tie it on the final possession of regulation.
Walker drew up a play during a timeout with 13.2 seconds left to run Sekunda off a double screen for a game-tying 3.
But the Little Lions never got set to run the play and didn’t get a shot off.
“When you’re in your gym at your tournament, you’re going to hit some big shots,” Jackson said. “But our guys weathered the storm and we stayed poised.”