Hazleton, Pa. - The Nittany Lions returned home Saturday night following a two game series vs. the Penn State University Athletic Conference's Western Division. Hazleton suffered heartbreak on Friday night in their visit to the PSUAC's newest addition in Penn State Shenango but recovered nicely on Saturday afternoon to snag a win at Penn State New Kensington. The split over the weekend keeps the Lions one game ahead of Brandywine in the PSUAC Eastern Division ahead of a huge week in conference play.
Friday, February 1: Penn State Hazleton 60, Penn State Shenango 62 - Final
Sharon, Pa. - Shenango came out on top in an extremely well played ball game that saw just 17 combined turnovers and 17 combined fouls between the two squads. Shenango held a solid 37-28 advantage on the glass only to be neutralized by Hazleton's edge from the free throw line and beyond the arc. This otherwise statistical stalemate would come down to the final seconds. Hazleton sank six triples on the night while Shenango struggled at just 16.7 percent from long range, but Shenango would make good on just their second trifecta of the evening with under 20 seconds to play to capture victory.
The Lions trailed by ten at halftime but a 10-0 run by Hazleton with 14 minutes remaining gave the squad their first lead since midway through the first half. Both squads would trade shots down the stretch and with less than a minute to go, Hazleton found themselves trailing 58-59 with control of the rock. After a slow first half, junior Andy Kwaitkowski (Gaithersburg, Md.) found late life, striking for a clutch bucket to give Hazleton a one point advantage with 36 ticks remaining only to be out-done on the opposite end by Shenango's Bradyen Martin. Martin struck for both of Shenango's triples on the night, but none bigger than the go ahead bucket in their final possession. Hazleton hurried the ball and got two good looks, but the three point offering by junior Robbie Hopkins (Mountain Top, Pa.) and put back attempt by sophomore Brandon Mohammed (Albrightsville, Pa.) rimmed out as fate would have it.
Despite the loss, Hopkins was stellar on the night, pitching in a team high 19 points on 7-of-13 shooting. Hopkins' 33 minutes were the most since being sidelined nearly two weeks ago and the Hazleton point guard was back to form, striking for a season high five triples. Mohammed was equally impressive, notching his sixth double-double this season with 12 points and 10 rebounds in 32 minutes of reserve work.
Saturday, Feb. 2: Penn State Hazleton 75, Penn State New Kensington 49 - Final
New Kensington, Pa. - Competing in their second contest in 16 hours, the Nittany Lions showed no signs of weariness heading into their matchup with New Kensington. Although the game was a single digit contest for over 30 minutes, Hazleton erupted in the later stages of the game behind a season high effort from senior Nick Nowak (Philadelphia, Pa.). Nowak and the Lions combined for 40 second half points and dominated the glass in the second half, 24-15 including 10 offensive boards. Attempting to get back into the game, New Kensington fired 11 triples in the second half but came up empty on every attempt, allowing Hazleton to surge ahead for a comfortable finish.
Nowak had season highs in a number of columns on Saturday including a game high 23 points. The senior shot 9-for-16 from the field including a stellar 5-of-6 from long range to top all scorers in the game. In addition, Nowak pulled in a season best 13 boards with four steals on the afternoon to lead Hazleton to the win. Sophomore Aaron Kellmer (Hazleton, Pa.) raked in a double-double as well, issuing 11 points and 10 rebounds in the win, adding five assists to his credit. Other Nittany Lions in double figures included freshman Scott Shamany (Hazleton, Pa.) with 10 points and nine rebounds while sophomore Brandon Mohammed added 11 points and eight rebounds in the winning effort.
Next up: A huge week for the Nittany Lions kicks off on Monday night when Hazleton hosts Penn State York in the first of their two meetings this season. Hazleton sits 1.5 games behind York for second place in the PSUAC as the Lions look to keep pace in the division for a playoff spot and potential home game. Tip-off for Monday's game slated for 8:00 p.m. in the Dr. Thomas M. Caccese Gymnasium.