MONT ALTO – Home court is typically a big advantage for the Penn State Mont Alto men’s basketball team.
Visiting Penn State Greater Allegheny put a monkey wrench in that edge, thanks to a big second half. The Lions from western Pennsylvania overcame a double-digit deficit early in the second half and held on for an 86-83 PSUAC West Division victory.
Devin Green led Greater Allegheny with 20 points. Bryce Phillips had 13 points and 13 rebounds, while Jeremiah Miller added 14 points and Maurtice McArthur had 11 points.
Mont Alto’s Nathan Osei led all scorers with 29 points. Caleb Eckert, who had to leave the game in the second half with an apparent injury, scored 18 points. Cameron Williams followed with 14 points. Williams had team highs in rebounds (nine) and assists (six).
“I loved the way we fought; we just didn’t play smart,” said Mont Alto head coach Jack Schenzel. “We didn’t execute the game plan – the first five minutes out giving those open threes up. The game plan was to crowd them on the perimeter.
“You can’t give up 86 points and win games. Our defense has been our Achilles heel this year. We’re really starting to score points in bunches, but defensively we’re not the same Mont Alto that we’ve been the last 10 years.”
Mont Alto was playing without starting point guard Tevin Venson, and Joseph Brooks.
“Both of them are having knee surgery this week,” said Schenzel. “Losing Caleb Eckert basically a couple minutes into the second half really hurt us, because had 16 big points and he was really dominating on the glass. He had seven offensive rebounds in the first half. It was just tough.”
Mont Alto led 43-37 at halftime and scored the first five points of the second half to take a 48-37 lead with just a minute gone.
Greater Allegheny started a 10-0 run with a short field goal by Phillips. Green made a three-pointer and, after a missed shot on the next time down the court, Phillips spotted up for another three.
Mont Alto helped GA’s cause by missing shots on four straight possessions. A pair of free throws by Christopher Killings cut an 11-point deficit to 48-47.
Anthony Davis (10 points) fought hard to follow up two missed shots to give Mont Alto a reprieve and a 50-47 lead.
But instead of the Lions responding in kind with a run of its own, it was a proverbial mirage in a scoring desert.
Greater Allegheny continued to shoot lights out, as Green drained a three-pointer to give the out-of-towners a 54-42 lead.
Mont Alto called time out to talk about it, and it seemed like it helped when Osei made a two-pointer to tie the game at 54.
The home Lions got the ball back after an offensive foul at the other end but couldn’t take advantage. It was a refrain that was repeated throughout the second half in a case of so-close-yet-so-far.
McArthur swished a three to keep Mont Alto close at 58-57; however, that’s as close as the Lions got the rest of the way.
Greater Allegheny’s lead swelled to 70-59 when Green made a trey with just under 11 minutes to play, still plenty of time for Mont Alto to make a charge.
Mont Alto got to within 80-78 with close to two minutes to play after Williams made a traditional three-point play. Jeremiah Miller helped take the pressure off with a two-point field goal, and after Mont Alto missed a shot at the other end and committed a foul, Miller made both foul shots for an 84-78 advantage with just over a minute left in the game.
Williams sparked Mont Alto when he followed up two missed three-point shots with a made three-pointer to make it 84-81.
Greater Allegheny turned the ball over, and Williams sank two free throws to cut the margin to 84-83 with just 15.2 seconds left.
“We gave up some threes and then we came down and had two or three bad possessions in a row which built their momentum,” Schenzel said. “And once they got comfortable from three, we were in a bad spot.
“We have to grow as a team. The team has been through a lot of adversity this year. We’ve had a lot of games missed by starters. The plus side is we’re tied for first place in the (PSUAC) West (division). We’ve had a lot of adversity. The plus side is we’re tied for first place in the West. If we defend for 40 minutes, we’re going to be okay.”
Miller was fouled at the other end and made both ends of the double bonus to account for the final score.
Mont Alto is 5-3 in the PSUAC and 7-4 overall. The Lions, who defeated PSU Du Bois 73-62 on Friday, next play at the Juniata College/Comfort Inn Holiday Tournament on Dec. 19 and 20.