Orefield, Pa. - Coming off a three game losing streak in the Penn State University Athletic Conference, the Nittany Lions bounced back for a key road win over Lehigh Valley on Wednesday night. Hazleton never trailed in the game but it took all 40 minutes for Hazleton to seal up the victory, pulling ahead late for a 73-61 win.
Mont Alto shot 50 percent from the field in the first half, compared to just over 28 percent for the Hazleton squad. Tough odds to overcome but the Nittany Lions responded in other ways, connecting on 11-12 free throws in the period and forcing 12 Lehigh Valley turnovers to stay on top 34-29 at the midway point.
Hazleton would get on target in the second half and they would need every last shot to hold off a hungry Lehigh Valley team. The home squad crept within one possession of the lead on several occassions in the second half but the Lions responded in each instance. With just over nine minutes to play, a triple by Lehigh Valley's Eric Gainor slashed Hazleton's advantage to just one point at 54-53, only to be answered by back to back three point makes by junior Andy Kwaitkowski (Gaithersburg Md.). The Hazleton junior was cold in the first half but exploded for 20 second half points, 12 of which came in the final nine minutes of action.
Moments after the Kwaitkowski run, Gainor would strike for a five point run of his own, trimming the lead back to two points in favor of Hazleton. This time it was sophomore Brandon Mohammed (Albrightsville, Pa.) coming up big for the Nittany Lions answering with four clutch points in the paint to stay off the wave of Lehigh Valley momentum. Mohammed would spark an 11-1 run by Hazleton over the next six minutes to give Hazleton a 12 point cushion and their largest lead of the game, sealing up the win with just over a minute to play.
After connecting on just 2-of-10 shots in the first half, Kwaitkowski found his rhythm in the final period to pace the squad with 25 points. The junior hit on 8-of-11 from the field in the second half, sending in both of his triples at key moments in the game. Kwaitkowski added a team high 12 rebounds and three steals, compiling his first double-double of the season. Returning from injury, Mohammed's energy was evident from the moment he stepped on the court. The sophomore chipped in 18 points in 29 minutes on the court, adding four rebounds, a pair of blocked shots and a team high four steals to fill up the stat sheet. Freshman Scott Shamany (Hazleton, Pa.) added eight rebounds, eight points and two blocks respectively to round out the top performers on the evening.
Next up: Hazleton moves to 6-4 in the Penn State University Athletic Conference ahead of a busy weekend against the western division. Hazleton will head our west on Friday, leading off with 7:00 p.m. contest with Penn State Shenango followed by a 1:00 p.m. affair on Saturday at Penn State New Kensginton.