Hazleton, Pa. - A hard fought contest with Penn State York ended in defeat on Tuesday night for the Hazleton Nittany Lions who dropped their fourth straight game in PSUAC competition. From the opening tip to the final horn, Tuesday's clash remained a single digit spread on the scoreboard. Hazleton rallied from eight points down in the final minute of action to threaten overtime but time ran out on the surging Lions who fell to the visitors 72-69.
Fans were treated to a fine effort by both squads and Hazleton's defense and long range attack created a intriguing matchup against the potent interior offense from the York squad. York led for nearly the entire first half but the Lions proved to be worthy chasers and kept within four points of the visitors through the first 15 minutes of play. With just under five minutes to play in the half, Hazleton went on a 9-2 run led by junior Aaron Kellmer (Hazle Twp, Pa.) who scored six points during the offensive rush. The Lions led 31-28 with less than two minutes to play but York responded with an 8-0 run to end the half leading by five points.
York threatened to pull away early in second half but heroics from senior Andy Kwiatkowski (Gaithersburg, Md.) and freshman Nick Ruggeri (Mountain Top, Pa.) kept Hazleton right on York's heels. After a tame first half from Kwiatkowski, the senior poured in shot after shot from mid range jumpers to towering triples. Kwiatkowski poured in 20 points in the half including five straight field goals for Hazleton over a four minute stretch of the half. But the Lions offense would cool off in the final eight minutes of play, allowing York to extend their lead to their largest margin of the night. Leading 67-59 with just over a minute to play, Hazleton bounced back with a pair of contested lay ups by Ruggeri and another by Kwiatkowski, part of a 6-2 run over a 40 second stretch late in the game and cutting York's lead to 69-65.
With less than 10 seconds to play, Hazleton was forced to foul resulting in an awkward but exciting finish. A foul by Ruggeri resulted in a flagrant one foul by the York squad. After York's Evan Brady sank both attempts at the charity stripe to extend the lead back to six points. Kwiatkowski would convert 1-of-2 free throws at the opposite end to trail 71-66 and ensuing in bounds play, Ruggeri drilled a long three point attempt to get the Lions within one possession with five seconds remaining in the game. Hazleton proceeded to foul after the make and York missed the first end of a one and one opportunity but with just three ticks remaining, Hazleton's attempt to traverse the length of the court for a last ditch heave resulted in a turnover, ending the game at 71-69 in favor of the visitors.
That final turnover was just the seventh committed all night by the Lions who played well in defeat. Kwiatkowski's monster second half ended in a 27 point night for the senior who went 11-for-20 on the night with eight rebounds. Ruggeri totaled 14 points in the loss with three steals while Aaron Kellmer added 13 points, six boards and four assists. York was led by John John Gillespie who score 17 points in the win with Deriq Brown and Michael Coleman adding 16 and 12 points respectively.
Next up: After two straight losses on their home court by three points or less, Hazleton will look to reverse the trend and get back in the win column on Tuesday, February 1 when the Lions host Penn State Lehigh Valley at 8:00 p.m. in the Dr. Thomas M. Caccese Gymnasium.