Midnight struck a couple of hours early for Cinderella.
The State College boys’ basketball team had bounced back from a 2-20 regular season to win two playoff games and had its sights set on an unlikely fourth consecutive District 6 Class AAAA title.
Altoona made sure the glass slipper didn’t fit.
The second-seeded Mountain Lions led from start to finish as they knocked off the Little Lions 44-31 at Saint Francis University’s DeGol Arena on Thursday. Manny Span had 15 points and Jermaine Samuel added 12 for Altoona (13-9), which advances to the PIAA Tournament against the fourth-place team out of District 7.
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Tyler Hall had 10 points for the Little Lions, who struggled offensively all evening against Altoona’s man-to-man pressure.
“We played really good defense,” said Altoona coach Paul Hasson after his team’s third double-digit win over State College this season. “We mixed it up very little. All year, we played some man and some zone. Tonight we played mostly man because they have such great shooters. … To hold them in the 30’s is a pretty good job.”
The focus for the Mountain Lions on Thursday was State College’s top scorer Michael Beattie, who entered the contest with a 16-point scoring average. Facing a combination of the 6-foot-6 Samuel and speedy 5-foot-9 David Simmons, Beattie had trouble getting open looks, driving lanes or just touches.
The senior, who had only one shot in the first quarter, finished with just two field goals and five points.
“That was the game plan,” Hasson said of the two-pronged attack on Beattie. “Jermaine is 6-foot-6 and he gave them the length look and he’s also pretty quick for his size. David was just the speed. That was the two different looks.”
In its previous two playoff wins over Hollidaysburg and Mifflin County, State College had gotten off to double-digit leads after one quarter, but Altoona did not let the Little Lions get going Thursday.
State College was limited to a basket and a free throw from Bryce Williams as Altoona took a 10-3 lead into the second quarter.
The Mountain Lions’ lead grew until Hall offered a little bit of life to the State College offense. The junior nailed two 3-pointers and had eight points in the second period. His 3-pointer triggered a 7-0 run to close the quarter and bring the Little Lions to within 21-16 at the half.
But that would be the last time Cinderella had some dancing music.
Altoona again flustered the Little Lions holding them to six third-quarter points and to nine in the last quarter.
“We just never got into a rhythm and Altoona did a really nice job on Michael Beattie,” State College coach Drew Frank said. “The bottom line is you can’t walk away from that game and not say that Altoona was better prepared to play the game than what we were.”
Span, a beefy 6-foot-4 post player, had six points in the third quarter as Altoona pushed its lead to 32-22.
“Every time we came down, I knew that I was going to be in the play somehow,” Span said. “I knew I was going to have to assert myself in every single play and not take any plays off. And when they got me the ball, I had to finish.”
“Manny is just so tough,” Hasson said. “He’s tough to handle inside.”
Altoona pushed the lead as high as 15 points, the final time on Simmons’ layup to make the score 41-26 with two minutes left.
Both coaches emptied the benches from there, giving several reserves an opportunity to play in a title game.
Frank lauded his players for the postseason run after the tough road to the title game.
“I am so proud of how our seniors conducted themselves over the course of the entire season,” he said. “For them to even have the courage to get us to this game tonight was a significant achievement for them. Other teams maybe would have packed it in and said let’s get this season over with. That was never the attitude of these guys.”