MIDDLETOWN, Pa.- Call it the revenge factor. Call it a refusal to quit. Call it a signature victory.
You can call it whatever you want, but there's no denying the heart displayed by Penn State Harrisburg in the team's 72-64 win over Wells in the North Eastern Athletic Conference (NEAC) semifinals on Saturday, Feb. 25. Playing 250 miles from home, without the services of starting forward Dave Reisinger (Harrisburg, PA/Central Dauphin East) and trailing by as many as 14 points, the Lions rallied to down the Express in a rematch of last year's conference championship game.
It was all Wells in the early going as the Express jumped out to 12-2 advantage. Their largest lead of the game came when all-conference first-team selection Terry Harrison (Brooklyn, NY/Forest Hills) converted a layup to make it 25-11 with 9:15 remaining in the first half.
Trailing by nine at the break, the Lions used a 9-2 run early in the second half to get themselves back in the game. After hanging around for the next seven minutes, the blue and white finally tied things up when NEAC Player of the Year runner-up Steve Jones (Harrisburg, PA/Harrisburg) hit a layup to make it 44-all with 10:57 left in the contest.
Technically the visiting team, Wells responded and a regained a three-point lead four minutes later, much to the delight of the New York natives in attendance at Morrisville State's gymnasium.
Needing an answer, Penn State Harrisburg looked to Amani Glenn (Harrisburg, PA/Central Dauphin East) and the freshman proceeded to knock down the biggest shot of his young career when he nailed a three-ball off a Jordan Gatchell (Manheim, PA/Manheim Central) assist to knot it up at 51 apiece with 6:41 left on the clock.
The Lions took their first lead of the afternoon when senior captain Kenton Alston (Harrisburg, PA/Steel-High) found another freshman, Alberto De Los Santos (Enola, PA/East Pennsboro), for a layup on their next possession. The blue and white would never trail again.
Glenn hit another shot from beyond the arc to push the advantage to five and another youngster, sophomore Julius Brown (McComb, MS/McComb), hit a clutch three of his own two minutes later to extend the lead to seven.
A Harrison old-fashioned three-point play cut the deficit to three with 1:17 remaining. But Gatchell and sophomore Will Doyle (Franklin, VA/Tidewater Academy) ended any chance the Express had of winning their second-straight conference crown by hitting their free throws down the stretch.
After losing to Wells on their home court in last year's NEAC final, the Lions displayed tremendous poise in the clutch, quieted the partisan Express crowd and exacted revenge for 2011's heartbreaking overtime defeat.
Jones was Penn State Harrisburg's high-scorer, netting 20 points and swiping a game-best four steals. Alston dropped 14 on Wells to go along with his game-high six assists, eight rebounds, two blocks and two steals. Glenn scored 11 while Gatchell and Doyle chipped in with nine and eight points, respectively. Brown turned in one of the best outings of his young career, netting seven, dishing out four assists and collecting three steals in 18 minutes of play. Reisinger did not play due to illness.
Harrison had a fantastic game in a losing effort. The senior forward scored a game-high 33 points on 13-18 shooting from the field and pulled-in a game-best 16 boards.
Wells had been on a tear as of late, winning its last seven games to end the regular season, including handing NEAC North Division champion Morrisville State its only conference loss of the season.
With the victory, Penn State Harrisburg, the conference's South Division champion, advances to tomorrow's NEAC title game against the Mustangs of Morrisville State, the tournament's host team.
Morrisville defeated Penn State Berks 86-79 in a hard fought contest in the tourney's other semifinal matchup. Five Mustang players eclipsed the double-digit scoring mark.
The blue and white fell to Morrisville 77-68 on Feb. 5 in the teams' only other matchup this season. The winner of tomorrow's championship game clinches an automatic berth in the NCAA's Division III tournament.