The State College boys’ basketball team set its sights on the state championship game at the start of the season.
After putting together a near-perfect regular season, winning the Mid Penn State title and capturing the District 6 championship, the Little Lions (23-1) are ready to chase after their season-long goal. They’ll open the PIAA Class 6A tournament against District 7 fourth-place finisher Woodland Hills (20-4) at 4 p.m. Saturday at Bald Eagle Area.
“Moving forward, this is the time of the year that you want to be playing your best,” State College coach Joe Walker said before the District 6 championship game. “March is the best time of the year for me.”
The Little Lions are looking to take their first step toward playing for a state title in Hershey in two weeks. They proved themselves as one of the state’s top teams this season, cruising to blowout wins and suffering their lone loss to District 3 champion Reading. State College was No. 4 in the state in the final set of rankings released by City of Basketball Love this season.
Now, the Little Lions will face Woodland Hills in the first round of the state playoffs for the second straight season. State College overcame a 17-point deficit to beat Woodland Hills 82-71 last year. The Little Lions outscored Woodland Hills 31-8 in the fourth quarter of that win.
State College has had similar scoring bursts this season, thriving in transition to bury opposing teams.
“Coach really emphasizes that in practice,” State College’s Ryan McNulty said. “He says it almost every timeout he calls: Run the floor, run the floor. We can beat them up and down the floor.”
In the District 6 championship game, the Little Lions used that approach to race out to an early 28-9 lead and rolled to a 94-54 win over Altoona. State College overwhelmed Altoona with its athleticism and talent, but the Little Lions will be challenged by other top teams in the state playoffs.
It starts with Woodland Hills, a team that is coming off a 65-61 loss to Pine-Richland in the WPIAL semifinals.
“We’re very balanced, but when you make it into the state tournament, everyone is like that,” Walker said earlier this season. “We don’t consider ourselves special or unique in that way. It’s just, again, you maximize your potential and opportunities and hopefully you come out on top.”
PIAA Class 6A tournament
State College vs. Woodland Hills
When: 4 p.m. Saturday
Where: Bald Eagle Area
Player to watch: Woodland Hills guard Amante Britt scored 31 points in his team’s 65-61 loss to Pine-Richland in the WPIAL semifinals. Britt surpassed the 1,000-point mark for his career earlier this season.