Hustle can go a long way to winning a basketball game, and it showed Saturday afternoon.
State College may have had the more talented team on the floor, but the Little Lions also showed a greater desire to hold onto the ball, and the result is another trip to the District 6 championship game.
State College led wire-to-wire and never gave Hollidaysburg much of a chance in a 55-29 victory in the Class AAAA semifinals at Bald Eagle Area High School.
“We settled down, got more relaxed and started to make our shots,” said senior guard Kyle Kanaskie, who netted five 3-pointers and a game-high 21 points.
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The Little Lions will face Central Mountain, which beat Altoona later Saturday at BEA, in the district final at 8 p.m. Wednesday at St. Francis University.
The Little Lions (16-7) will be seeking their 12th district title and fourth in the last five seasons.
After a quiet first half, Kyle Kanaskie drilled four second-half 3-pointers while netting 16 points after the break. Bryan Sekunda added nine points and six rebounds, and Connor Nodell and Jason Costa each tossed in seven points in a game with a slow and deliberate pace.
“They did exactly what we asked them to do, exactly how we asked them to do it,” head coach Drew Frank said. “I said, ‘They’re really going to have to be patient, because what we’re going to have to do with our defensive game plan is going to call for them to be patient.’ I didn’t want to get out and extend our defense and let Hollidaysburg turn that into chaos.”
Zach Ottaway’s 15 points led the Tigers (7-17), but no one else scored more than four.
Getting the little things done helped State College with the big picture.
With time winding down to end the first quarter, Kanaskie took a long shot that was off the mark, but Costa outraced a Tiger for the rebound and tipped the ball back to Kanaskie a few feet behind the top of the key. Kanaskie quickly grabbed the ball and launched another shot just before the buzzer sounded, finding the bottom of the net. Costa added 10 points and four assists to his total.
“That definitely got my confidence up,” Kanaskie said. “I didn’t really expect to make it. I was off balance. I kind of just threw it up. But once that went in I started feeling good.”
The play seemed to light a fire for Kanaskie to get him jump-started for his hot second half.
“I’m just trying to make every shot I take, really,” Kanaskie said. “It’s nothing special. I got in a rhythm and got my confidence as the game went on.”
More first-half hustle was turned in by Bryce Williams, who finished with a mere one point in the scorebook but was all over the floor with eight rebounds and six steals, especially pestering the Tigers in the paint.
“That’s what Bryce has done for us this year,” Frank said. “We have some players that have some very nice skills, it’s not that Bryce doesn’t have those skills, but his game just isn’t flashy like that. He’s like the pickup truck where these others are like Maseratis.”
State College had steadily crawled ahead, never giving Hollidaysburg much of a chance, but didn’t completely seize control until a 14-0 run from late in the third quarter to midway through the fourth, holding the Tigers scoreless for better than six minutes. Kanaskie buried a pair of 3-pointers and two free throws, and Ryan Karstetter also had four points including a buzzer-beater of his own to end the third, during the burst.
“We just wanted to come out with the same energy,” Kanaskie said. “We missed some shots in the first half that we knew if we got them again in the second half we’d knock them down.”
Notes: State College was 20-for-48 from the floor in the game, including 11-for-21 after halftime, while holding the Tigers to 11-for-31 shooting. ... The Little Lions also had just nine turnovers to Hollidaysburg’s 12. ... State College will be seeking its seventh district crown since 2002.