Hazleton, Pa. - The 2021-22 season is up and running and following Hazleton's 68-64 victory over Wilson College in the Dr. Thomas M. Caccese Gymnasiun, the Nittany Lions are off to a great start. Hazleton grabbed late first quarter lead and held on for the remainder of the matchup, fighting off several late charges by the Phoenix of Wilson College but in the end, a clutch basket by sophomore Emily TItus (Tamaqua, Pa.) and two late free throws by Rocky Curry (Darby, Pa.) sealed up the first win of the season for Hazleton.
Freshman Cassandra Rodriguez (League City, Tx.) and sophomore Jeny Rivera (Las Piedras, PR) combined for 14 first quarter points on Friday night. Rodriguez drained a pair of triples in the opening minutes of play and although Hazleton trailed briefly midway through the period, Rivera provided a spark off the Nittany Lion bench and struck for three straight layups in the waning minutes of the quarter that gave Hazleton a four point cushion at the first intermission.
Hazleton's lead would fluctuate between three and eight points for nearly thirty minutes of play but things would get interesting in the fourth quarter as Wilson made a late push. Several errant field goal attempts and four NIttany Lion turnovers benefitted the Wilson squad who went on a 12-4 run midway through the period. A lay up by Baylen Snyder knotted the score at 64 and Wilson had an opportunity to claim their first lead of the second half with just under two minutes to play. The Lions would regain possession but missed their next three opportunities to convert on offense. Fortunately for Hazleton, their prowess on the offensive glass kept them on the attack with an opportunity to go back ahead.
The Nittany Lions finally broke the seal on the hoop with just over a minute to play when freshman Azaria Johnson (Richmond Hill, Ga.) found Titus under the basket on an inbounds play. Titus corralled the pass after sealing off a defender and knocked in her first and only field goal of the night, the eventual game winner. Leading 66-64, Hazleton got a pair of huge defensive stops Wilson's next two possessions and with just seconds remaining in the game, Rocky Curry buried two free throws to ice the game at 68-64 in favor of the Lions.
Friday night's win wasn't without it's difficulties. Hazleton had to overcome 20 turnovers in the contest and a 24 point outpouring from Wilson's Samira Murphy but the Lions did so in several phases of the game. Hazleton dominated the glass to the tune of a 59-43 margin in the rebounding column and got production up and down the roster resulting in a 25-4 advantage in bench points. Four Nittany Lions topped double figures in this one including game highs from Curry and Rodriguez who totaled 13 points each with Curry adding 12 rebounds and seven free throw in ten trips to the charity stripe. Freshman Safara McIntyre (Philadelphia, Pa.) picked up her first career double-double with 11 points and 12 boards while Jeny Rivera ended the game with 10 points and eight rebounds.
Next up: Hazleton returns to the court on Tuesday, Novemer 9 when the Nittany Lions travel to Bethlehem, Pa. to take on Northampton County Community College in a 5:00 p.m. matchup.