AURORA, N.Y. – Penn State Harrisburg versus Wells. That pairing has quickly become the marquee North Eastern Athletic Conference (NEAC) matchup of the past three seasons. The Express topped the Lions in the NEAC championship game in 2011. The Blue and White swept Wells last year, including a pivotal NEAC tourney semifinal victory. On Saturday, Jan. 12, the Express swung the momentum back in its favor with a 53-49 win over Harrisburg in another thrilling contest between the two programs.
Senior captain Jordan Gatchell (Manheim, Pa. / Manheim Central) led the way for Penn State Harrisburg, scoring a team-high 16 points. Fellow senior Thristan Lundy (Philadelphia, Pa. / Samuel Fels) was the only other Lion to reach the double-digit mark with 11.
The home team jumped out to an early lead but a steal by Lundy led to a fast break that saw Gatchell tie the game at six-apiece when he connected from beyond the arc at the 16:45 mark.
From there, the Express offense started to chug. Over the next 5:08, Wells went on an 11-4 run that gave it the first sizeable advantage of the afternoon.
The game proved to be a low-scoring, defensive-minded affair. No stretch summed this up better than the four minutes between Gatchell's layup at the 9:54 mark and Wells' guard Jordan Bishop's three-ball with 5:55 remaining in the first half.
Trailing 20-12, the Lions strung together a strong final five minutes of the half. Allowing just two Wells free throws the rest of the way, the Blue and White got offensive contributions from sophomore Joey Farthing (Lancaster, Pa. / Hempfield), freshman Arick Sodini (Manalapan, N.J. / St. John Vianney) and Gatchell to draw within one at the break.
A pair of foul shots from Lundy gave Penn State Harrisburg its first lead of the afternoon at 25-24 with 16:28 left in the game.
Sophomore Alberto De Los Santos (Enola, Pa. / East Pennsboro) knocked down two of the Lions next three buckets, both three-pointers, and gave the visitors their largest lead of the contest at nine points.
Harrisburg's sophomore big man Kevin Icker connected on a jumper to make it 40-32 in favor of the Lions with just under ten minutes to play.
Then Wells turned it on.
Express captain EJ Taylor took over for the hosts, netting two jumpers from downtown and laying-in the game-tying score with 5:13 left in regulation. Wells retook the lead when JJ Walton knocked down a jumper of his own with 2:30 remaining.
With his team trailing 48-46, Lundy stole the ball from Bishop and eventually hit a layup that evened things up once more. Coming with 1:28 left on the clock, it proved to be the Lions' final field goal of the day.
Following a Walton jump shot on the other end, Icker was fouled and had an opportunity to tie it up from the charity stripe. He went 1-2 but Harrisburg got the ball back with a chance to send the game to overtime.
After Wells' Jonathan Hurtado upped his team's advantage to 52-49, the Blue and White regained possession with the shot clock turned off. Will Doyle (Franklin, Va. / Tidewater Academy) hoisted a three-ball with less than ten seconds remaining but it was not to be on this afternoon.
The combatants were very evenly-matched. Wells shot 39.6 percent from the field. Harrisburg shot 36 percent. Each team sank five three-pointers. The Express converted ten free throws while the Blue and White converted eight. Wells scored 24 points in the paint compared to the Lions' 20. Even the bench play was neck and neck. The home team got eight tallies from its bench while the visitors got seven.
The one telling statistic came on the glass. The Express collected 44 rebounds compared to just 27 by Penn State Harrisburg. In a game in which every point matters, extra possessions can be the difference between a victory and a defeat.
In addition to his point total, Gatchell dished-out a game-high five assists. Lundy, Farthing and De Los Santos grabbed a team-best four rebounds each. Doyle had an off-day shooting-wise but still managed to make his presence felt, assisting on four Harrisburg baskets.
The tough loss dropped the Lions to 6-9 on the year. More importantly, it was the first time the team tasted defeat in conference play this season. Despite the blemish on its record, Harrisburg maintained a share of first place in the NEAC's South Division standings.
This was the lone regular season meeting between the conference rivals. In order for an encore to take place, the two squads would need to be paired up in the conference's postseason tournament later this winter. For the sake of basketball fans everywhere, here's hoping it happens.