MIDDLETOWN, Pa- Coming into the 2011-2012 campaign, Penn State Harrisburg hadn't beaten an opponent outside the North Eastern Athletic Conference (NEAC) in nearly two years. When the Lions knocked off King's College in the opening round of the PNC Bank/Monarch Classic on Friday, Dec. 9, they added their third non-conference victory of the young season to the win column.
The blue and white took down the tournament's host squad in the first game before dropping a squeaker to Susquehanna in the championship game on Saturday, Dec. 10. Senior captain Kenton Alston (Harrisburg, PA/Steel-High) and sophomore Will Doyle (Franklin, VA/Tidewater Academy) had a stellar weekend and were named to the all-tournament team.
In the first round contest, Penn State Harrisburg jumped out to an early 13-2 lead over King's and refused to relinquish the advantage the rest of the game. The Lions largest lead came with just over six minutes remaining in the first half at 35-16.
The Monarchs played better in the second period and even cut the deficit to 59-56 but the blue and white used a late 9-3 run to put the game out of reach and pick up the impressive 87-81 victory and move on to the tournament final.
Penn State Harrisburg shared the wealth as all five starters recorded double-digit points. Alston led the way with 19 while junior Jordan Gatchell (Manheim, PA/Manheim Central) and freshman Amani Glenn (Harrisburg, PA/Central Dauphin East) added 15 apiece. Doyle scored 12 and dished out a team-best eight assists. Junior Steve Jones (Harrisburg, PA/Harrisburg) also netted 12 and grabbed a game-high ten rebounds.
The Lions continued their strong play in the championship matchup the next day and once again jumped out to a big lead. This time it was 10-0 over Susquehanna. But the Crusaders didn't panic and eventually cut the deficit to just three at the half.
After the break, the contest remained close until the final buzzer. Unfortunately for the Lions, Susquehanna went on a late run and took a 64-58 lead as crunch time drew near. The blue and white fought back and drew the score to 69-67 thanks to a Gatchell three-ball, but the Crusaders out-rebounded the Lions 52-29 and made their free throws down the stretch to seal the win and clinch the tournament championship 71-67.
Susquehanna's hot shooting and a tremendous individual performance from tournament most valuable player Spenser Spencer (Seattle, WA/Lakeside) (24 points including 15 from beyond the arc) spelled the end for the Lions' strong weekend play.
Doyle paced Penn State Harrisburg with 20 points against the Crusaders. Gatchell recorded team-highs in rebounds (7) and assists (5) to go along with his eight points. Glenn netted 15 of his own while Alston and Jones chipped in with seven points apiece. Freshman Alberto De Los Santos (Enola, PA/East Pennsboro) added five points.
The Susquehanna loss ended the Lions' recent five-game win streak and dropped the squad to 6-3 (2-0 NEAC) on the year.
But if it's any consolation, the Lions will get the chance to avenge the hard-fought defeat in less than three weeks' time. Penn State Harrisburg will host the Crusaders in a championship rematch in the team's next contest on Thursday, Dec. 29. The game is the Lions' last of the 2011 portion of the schedule.