One turnover gave way to another as State College broke against Harrisburg’s pressure.
Cougar guard Chris Whitaker finished a breakaway dunk off the Little Lions’ first turnover of the fourth quarter, pushing Harrisburg’s lead to 16 points. Shaquan Anderson-Butts ripped away a possession for Harrisburg the next trip down the floor, leading to a putback by Jahaad Proctor. An errant pass by State College followed, continuing a chaotic stretch that ultimately saw the Cougars’ lead balloon to 20.
Harrisburg used the same formula to seize control in the first quarter and rolled past State College 80-63 in the first round of the PIAA Class AAAA boys’ basketball tournament Saturday at Bald Eagle Area High School.
“Preparing for their pressure and speed is easy to say you’re going to do and then when you face it in real time, it’s a little bit different,” State College coach Joe Walker said. “We kind of dug ourselves an early nine-point hole and then we started edging back. But you know, all the energy that you fight back with, it’s tough.”
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Drew Friberg scored 22 points and went 15 for 15 from the foul line to lead State College. Tyler Hall added 12 on four 3-pointers and Cooper Gulley added 11.
The Little Lions played without senior forward Alex McCann, who scored 12 points to help State College beat Altoona in the District 6 championship game last week.
“There was an academic and disciplinary issue that went through the school and they followed student protocol so he was unable to play today,” Walker said. “We can’t discuss the specifics of it, it’s confidentiality, but there was an academic (issue) and it related to team rules that he was unable to play today.”
The Cougars advance to the second round Wednesday to face North Allegheny, a 65-57 winner over North Hills.
State College (13-11) struggled to execute its game plan in its third loss to Harrisburg (21-8) this season.
The Little Lions came into the game focused on handling the Cougars’ swarming defense. They also wanted to force Harrisburg to shoot from the outside against its 2-3 zone while limiting Proctor, the team’s leading scorer.
Four of State College’s first five possessions ended in turnovers as Harrisburg took an 8-3 lead.
“We knew we would have to initiate the action,” Harrisburg coach Kirk Smallwood said. “We managed to do that. We scored early and we kind of snatched the momentum early.”
Proctor later finished a transition layup off a steal to make it 13-6 and the Cougars led 23-12 by the end of the first quarter.
Proctor keyed the hot start, hitting back-to-back 3s on Harrisburg’s first two possessions and adding the breakaway layup for eight first-quarter points. Proctor continued to find ways to burn the Little Lions, finishing with a game-high 36 points and going 13 for 15 from the foul line.
“Early, he’s hitting 3s, then he’s penetrating,” Walker said. “Then in the second half, he kills us in the post, so he’s a really good player when you talk about the tools involved in basketball. It’s tough to slow him down and he had a great night, like he’s done a couple times this year.”
Harrisburg took a 16-point lead after a Proctor 3 in the second quarter.
State College went 8 for 8 on free throws in the period to chip away at the deficit. Michael Caswell hit a pair of foul shots to pull the Little Lions within 32-23 with 3:14 left in the half.
Friberg went 8 for 8 from the line in the first half and recorded his first field goal on a layup in transition, sending State College to halftime trailing 39-28.
“You always forget that he’s a freshman and he steps up there with such confidence,” Walker said. “He’s going to be a great player.”
State College cut the deficit to 10 multiple times in the third quarter, but the Little Lions couldn’t catch the Cougars, who escaped with a 52-51 win the last time they played the Little Lions in late January.
“They didn’t play the same team that barely got out of the gym with a one-point win a month ago,” Smallwood said.
Smallwood said his underclassmen have stepped up around Proctor.
Whitaker, a sophomore, finished with eight points, fellow sophomore Brennen Jackson added eight and Anderson-Butts, a freshman, had seven.
Harrisburg guard Frank Wilson Jr. was second on the team with 14 points.
“Overall I was just really happy with the effort,” Walker said. “From tip to the final buzzer, my guys played their butts off.”