Hazleton, Pa. - Hazleton was short-handed Saturday afternoon with a pair of starters absent from the lineup although that didn't stop the Nittany Lions from giving Penn State Mont Alto all they could handle on Saturday afternoon in the Dr. Thomas M. Caccese Gymnasium. Hazleton dominated the middle 20 minutes of actions, building a double-figure lead in the second half behind a season-best performance from junior Andy Kwaitkowski (Gaithersburg, Md.) but a slew late turnovers by the Nittany Lions allowed Mont Alto to burst past Hazleton and escape with a 79-76 win.
The Nittany Lions closed the first half on a 12-6 run, giving the home squad a six point cushion at the midway point and setting up a thrilling second half. Hazleton extended their lead to as many as 12 points in the final period but things would get interesting down the stretch. An 8-2 run by the visitors shrank the Nittany Lion advantage to just one point with just 3:13 to play but a pair of Kwaitkowski free throws would extend that cushion back to three points. Mont Alto responded with back to back buckets, the latter of which came on an errant pass by the Nittany Lions, giving the visitors their first lead since the four minute mark of the first half.
WIth Hazleton now trailing 74-73 and just over one minute to play, Kwaitkowski capitalized on an old fashioned three point play to put the Lions back on top but Mont Alto responded to knot the game at 76 with just over 32 seconds remaining. Hazleton wound some clock called timeout to set up what would essentially be a last second shot to break the tie, but swipe on the inbound play by Mont Alto's Quyntin Flemister led to a foul on the breakaway layup attempt. Flemister connected on 1-of-2 from the stripe to give Mont Alto a 77-76 advantage with 16 seconds to play but Hazleton still had the final possession to win the game. But the Lions would never get that opportunity. Hazleton would turn the ball over two more times in the final 16 seconds allowing Mont Alto to extend the lead to three points via two trips to the free throw line. With one second to play, a last ditch effort by Kwaitkowski from three quarter court came up short, allowing Mont Alto to exit with a 79-76 win.
A fine game by the Nittany Lions nearly allowed them to overcome their adversity due to injuries but in the end the late miscues spoiled an otherwise fine effort. Eight players found the scoring column on Saturday but Kwaitkowski would end the game as the only Hazleton player in double-figures. The junior led all scorers on the day with a season-high 29 points on 11-of-20 shooting from the floor. Kwaitkowski connected on four triples on the afternoon and went 4-for-6 from the free throw line, adding a team-high eight rebounds in the loss. Senior Nick Nowak (Philadelphia, Pa.) added nine points, seven rebounds and six assists to round out the top performers for Hazleton.
Next up: Saturday's disappointing loss makes it three straight defeats in the PSUAC for Hazleton. Nevertheless, with 10 games remaining Hazleton remain on the plus side of .500 in the PSUAC. The Lions will look to right the ship on Tuesday, January 29 when the squad hosts Penn State York at 8:00 p.m.