Hazleton keeps pace with split vs. western foes

Jonte Washington shoots from close range.
Jonte Washington shoots from close range.

Hazleton, Pa. - The Nittany Lions narrowly missed out on a two game sweep against Penn State University Athletic Conference western opponents as Hazleton hosted Penn State Beaver and Fayette over the weekend. After fading late for a 71-67 loss to Penn State Beaver on Friday night, Hazleton bounced back for a five point 59-54 win over Fayette Saturday afternoon to remain one game over .500 in conference play with a 6-9 overall record for 2019-20 season. 

The first of two evenly matched games over the weekend began with a closely contested battle with Penn State Beaver. At no point in the contest did either team lead by double figures and with just one exception, both squads were locked in statistical gridlock. With four minutes remaining in the first half, the Lions surged for their largest lead of the game, a six point advantage thanks to the efforts of junior Brandon Mohammed (Albrightesville, Pa.) who knocked in a three from the top of the key and connected on three free throws to give the Lions a 31-25 advantage. Beaver's John Foster responded with seven points of his own in the last three minutes of play helping Beaver claim a 34-33 edge at halftime. 

Beaver would briefly stretch their lead out to as many as six points in the second half but for the most part, this was a one possession game with both squads trading blows right down to the end. With 4:15 to play, sophomore Edwin Ferreras (Passaic, Nj.) struck from long range to give Hazleton a 63-62 lead and moments later Mohammed kept Hazleton in contention with back to back layups that tied the game at 67 with less than one minute to play. But Beaver's Keon Butler would come up big in the waning moments of play. The swift guard gave Beaver the lead with a contested shot in the paint and followed that effort with a crucial steal as Hazleton sought to match the score on the opposite end. With Hazleton forced to foul, Beaver's John Foster iced the game at the line with two free throws to seal up the win by slim four point margin.

Butler and Foster combined for 46 points for the visitors while a balanced attack let to four Nittany Lions in double digits led by Mohammed with 17 points, three blocks and seven rebounds. Sophomore Scott Shamany (Hazleton, Pa.) added 14 points, 10 rebounds and a pair of blocks in the loss with junior Andy Kwaitkowski (Gaithersburg, Md.) and junior Brett Kosciolek (Tamaqua, Pa.) pitching in with 11 and 10 points respectively.

Hazleton connected on just 6-of-26 shots from long range Friday night which ultimately proved to be the difference in the weekend's first game. Not much would change in the shooting category as Hazleton took the floor on Saturday, however in this one, Hazleton's outstanding defense shined to overcome the shooting woes. 

Both squads would struggle to put points on the board in what was another tight game for Hazleton that saw nine ties and 12 lead changes. The Lions posted a 27-25 lead at halftime and survived brief 8-0 run by Fayette in the early portion of the final period with some crucial baskets from seniors Robbie Hopkins (Mountain Top, Pa.) and Jonte Washington (New York, Ny.). Those efforts added up to a 53-48 lead with six minutes remaining and Hazleton locked in defensively from that point on. The Lions would allow just two Fayette field goals over the final six minutes with clutch rebounding by Mohammed and Shamany to limit Fayette to single chances. Robbie Hopkins sank a pair of free throws in the final 30 seconds to make it a two possession game capping a 10 point half by the senior and lock up the much needed conference win for Hazleton. 

Hopkins second half effort gave the senior top honors on the afternoon with a 16 point output on the day on 6-of-11 shooting. Kwaitkowski added 14 points and seven rebounds with Mohammed cleaning up in the paint with eight points, 13 rebounds and three blocked shots in the victory. 

Next up: The Lions continue their home stand on Tuesday, January 28 when Hazleton squares off with Penn State York at 8:00 p.m.