Hazleton, Pa. - Eighty minutes was not enough on Tuesday night as the Nittany Lions squared off with Penn State Scranton as Penn State University Athletic Conference resumed for the first time in nearly 21 months. Hazleton led much of the way on their home court Tuesday but a late rally by Scranton saw the visitors reel off 13 points in the final three minutes of play to knot the score at 67 each and force overtime. Regardless of the finish in regulation, Hazleton kept their composure and stormed ahead in overtime, notching three field goals and converting 4-of-4 free throws in the extra time to pull out a 77-72 win.
The Nittany Lions out-shot Scranton handily in the first half and led by as many as 14 points in the opening period. Hazleton shot 13-for-28 in the first half, including eight triples and 11 first half points by senior Andy Kwiatkowski (Gaithersburg, Md.) and were undeterred by a 10 rebound deficit in the opening half. Scranton closed out the first half on a 7-1 run to trim the Hazleton cushion to just eight points at the midway point a precursor of what was to come in the second half.
Hazleton's lead would hover around 10 points for much of the second half but with three minutes remaining, the Lions struggled to close out the game. Scranton had shot just under 30 percent in the first half, but picked up their shooting in the final period and benefitted from 27 attempts from the free throw line in the final 20 minutes of play to chip away late at the Hazleton lead. Leading by 11 points with three minutes to play, Hazleton began to milk the clock but were unsuccessful as Scranton forced turnovers on four straight Hazleton possessions, converting on the opposite end with layup by Savion Saunders, a pair of free throws by Matt Dessoye and a triple and two free throws from Robert McAndrew. In a flash, Scranton had trimmed the Hazleton lead down to nothing at 65-65. Freshman Nick Ruggeri (Mountain Top, Pa.) finally broke the run with a pair of late free throws to give Hazleton 67-65 lead but costly foul with 1.7 seconds remaining put Scranton's Vincent Talluto at the charity stripe with a chance to tie the game. Talluto silenced the crowd and drained the pair and a last ditch effort by Hazleton came up wide left of the goal sending the two local rivals into extra time.
Scranton won the tip but a steal by freshman Donovan Cumberbatch (Brooklyn, Ny.) led to a lay in by freshman Paul Feisel (Slocum, Pa.) to start the overtime period and a lay up by senior Daniel Gendimenico (Hazleton, Pa.) put the Lions up by four with four minutes to play, but Hazleton would go scoreless over the next three minutes of action. Fortunately for Hazleton, Scranton went just 1-for-5 over that same period of time, leaving the Lions in charge with a 71-70 advantage with just one minute to play. On their next possession, Cumberbatch drove the lane, banking in a lay up to give Hazleton some breathing room and Scranton failed to convert at their end of the court. Forced to foul, Scranton sent Ruggeri and Kwiatkowski to the line, who promptly converted all four attempts to extend the lead to seven points and seal up the much needed win for Hazleton.
Kwiatkowski led Hazleton with a season high 27 points and 10 rebounds, marking the senior's best effort of the season with an 8-for-15 performance from the field while converting 7-of-9 from the free throw line. Ruggeri added 15 points in the victory while Pail Feisel chipped in 14 points, three assists and four steals respectively.
Next up: Conference play continues for Hazleton on Friday night when the Lions host Penn State Beaver on November 19 at 8:00 p.m. looking to remain unbeaten in the PSUAC.