Senior night effort not enough to bring home the win

Conner Soo drives the lane.
Conner Soo drives the lane.

Hazleton, Pa. - With several key players out of the line-up, most notably senior standout Andy Kwiatkowski (Gaithersburg, Md.) due to injury and senior big man Danny Gendimenico (Hazleton, Pa.) due to COVID protocols, senior night didn't have its usual flair, as the local Lions were unable to keep pace with the visiting Lions of Penn State Wilkes-Barre. Wlikes-Barre used 6-for-11 shooting from behind the arc in the first half to build a 15-point lead that proved too much for the short staffed local Lions to overcome. The 75-61 loss puts Hazleton at 8-9 in conference play with two regular season games to play each of which will have playoff seeding implications.

The local Lions kept the game close in the early going of the first half on a layup by second-year player Conner Soo (Lamar, Pa.), a three by third-year player Aaron Kellmer (Hazle Township, Pa.), and five early points by first-year point guard Nick Ruggeri (Mountain Top, Pa.). At the 9:26 mark, the score was knotted at 10 a piece. However, the visiting Lions went on a 10-1 that ended at the 7:16 mark with a layup by Ruggeri who finished the half with 13-points on 5-for-7 shooting including 3-for-4 from beyond the arc. While Ruggeri's basket helped slow the bleeding a little, Wilkes-Barre outscored Hazleton 20-12 over the final seven minutes of the half to take a 40-25 lead into the break. 

Where Ruggeri left off in the first half for Hazleton, first-year guard Colin Johnson (Raleigh, Nc.) picked up in the second half. Johnson went 5-for-10 from the field, including 3-for-5 from three, and a perfect 6-for-6 from the free throw line to lead Hazleton with 19 points in the half. His effort, along with Kellmer's 10 point, 8 rebound second half effort, helped the local Lions fight back to come within four points of the visitors at the 6:59 mark, but that is as close as the home squad would get. Wilkes-Barre's depth; length on the boards, out rebounding Hazleton 42-30; and long range shooting advantage, 47.8% to 36.8% were too much down the stretch as they outscored Hazleton 15-5 to take the short ride home with a 14-point victory. 

Both teams left all they had on the court. Wilkes-Barre had three players in double figueres. Kaii Gilliam led all scorers with 22 points on 7-for-12 shooting with 5-for-8 from three and 3-for-4 from the foul line, while pulling down seven rebounds. Jedidiah Ashton went 7-for-10 from the field and 2-for-2 from the charity strip to net 16 points to go along with his 7 caroms. Rounding out Wilkes-Barre's double digit scoring was Marc Emile who was the afternoon's sharp shooter, as he went a perfect 5-for-5 from long range to post 15 points of his own.

Hazleton also had three players in double digits. Johnson finished the game with at team-high 21 points on 6-for 18 shooting, 3-for-6 from deep and a perfect 6-for-6 from the line. He also had 3 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals to round out his game. Ruggeri ended the game with 16 points going 6-for-9 from the field and 3-for-4 from three while pulling down 4 rebounds from his point guard spot. Kellmer was the third local Lion to crack double digit scoring with a double-double effort on the afternoon. He finished the game with 13 points, a game-high 12 rebounds, and 3 assists. Jahdon Jerome (Brooklyn, Ny.) finished the game with 8 points and 3 assists.

Next up: The final week of the regular season has Hazleton on the road to face two tough Eastern Conference opponents. The first game of the week is a Valentine's Day show down at Penn State York at 8:00 p.m. and rounding out the regular season is the second match-up in as many weeks at Penn State Schuylkill with tip-off at 8:00 p.m. as well. The outcome of these games will determine whether or not Hazleton will have a home first round playoff game on Saturday, February 19th.