MIDDLETOWN, Pa. – 19-3…oh, you know. No big deal. That's just the deficit Penn State Harrisburg faced ten minutes into its matchup with Capital Athletic Conference (CAC) foe Frostburg State on Wednesday night, Dec. 11. While it's not the kind of situation they'd consistently like to find themselves in, the Lions embraced the role of "cardiac cats" and battled back to down the visiting Bobcats 60-58 in a hard-fought thriller that came down to the wire.
Will Doyle (Franklin, Va. / Tidewater Academy) continued his strong play as of late and scored a game-high 21 points. The senior captain knocked down five three-pointers, dished out four assists and pulled in four rebounds. Joey Farthing (Lancaster, Pa. / Hempfield) was also stout and ended up one board shy of a double-double. The junior netted 15, grabbed nine rebounds, assisted on three buckets and swiped two steals. Senior captain Kenny Stone (Philadelphia, Pa. / Scotland) and freshman Winton Lyle (Washington D.C. / Bullis School) came through in the clutch and hit key shots down the stretch.
Farthing connected from long distance on Penn State Harrisburg's opening possession. The Lions wouldn't score again for nearly 11 minutes.
While the Blue & White struggled to convert in the early going, Frostburg State played gritty defense and got into a rhythm offensively. A Nick Smoot three-ball gave the Bobcats their first lead of the night at 5-3 and back-to-back Royce Hunsberger jumpers from beyond the arc made it 12-3 at the 11:48 mark. Before they could blink, the Lions found themselves 19-3 following a Jabari Kamau layup.
It was time to regroup.
Penn State Harrisburg head coach Don Friday burned a timeout with 9:11 left in the first half. It proved to be just what the team needed. Slowly but surely, the Lions calmed down, started to execute and cut into the double-digit deficit.
Doyle ended the Bobcats' 19-0 run when he drained one from distance. Lyle hit a layup three possessions later and then it was back to Doyle for another three-ball; this one cut the deficit to single digits at the 6:10 mark.
Frostburg responded over the next three minutes and pushed its advantage back to 16 when Smoot hit another three-pointer to make it 29-13 with 3:38 left in the half.
Enter freshman Logan Stovall (Palmyra, Pa. / Palmyra Area) and sophomore Kieran Kelley (Coal Township, Pa. / Shamokin Area). Friday asked his two underclassmen to play with intensity. They promptly responded by helping energize a Penn State Harrisburg team that looked stagnant during the game's first 17 minutes.
Suddenly, the defensive effort intensified. The Lions held Frostburg State scoreless for the final 3:01 of the first half. Doyle came to life, commanded the ball and refused to be stopped, scoring seven of the game's next nine points. Kelley's free throw cut the Bobcats' lead to nine. Stovall hit a jumper on the next possession to make it seven. The assist on Stovall's bucket? You guessed it - Kelley.
The Blue & White ended the first half with a bang when Farthing buried a three-ball at the buzzer off a Doyle find to bring the deficit to 30-26 at the break.
The early portion of the second half saw Frostburg State push its lead back to as many as nine when Hunsberger went 1-2 from the foul line with 16:35 remaining but Farthing sent the visitors a message when he scored the game's next seven points and drew the Lions to within two with 15:17 left to play; the first time they sniffed the lead since the opening tip.
The score remained close over the next six minutes. It was only fitting that Stovall was the one to reclaim the lead for Penn State Harrisburg, the team's first since the game's opening moments, when he converted a layup off a pretty pass from junior Alberto De Los Santos (Enola, Pa. / East Pennsboro) to make it 45-44 at the 7:53 mark.
Lyle scored four straight points to up the Lions' advantage to 49-46 with just over five minutes left to play but the Bobcats refused to roll over and reclaimed the lead 53-51 thanks to Robert Williams' layup with 3:19 to go.
But as they have all season, when the Lions needed a big shot, they looked to the man from Virginia. And as he has all season, Doyle proved up to the task. His long-range jumper made it 54-53 Penn State Harrisburg with three minutes remaining. On the team's next possession, he buried another to extend the advantage to 57-53.
The Lions got a stop on the Bobcats' next trip down the floor and Stone came up huge when he knocked down a baseline jumper to make it 59-53 with just 1:35 remaining.
But just when the visitors appeared to have run out of answers, Kamau converted an old-fashioned three-point play to draw the Bobcats within three. Hunsberger stole the ensuing inbounds pass and Kamau laid his shot in off the glass to cut it to one with 57 seconds left.
When a tie up gave the ball back to Frostburg State with 32 ticks remaining, it set up a heart pounding final act. The Bobcats used a timeout to set up their offense but the Lions locked all windows and doors once play resumed. With precious seconds disappearing off the clock, Kamau was forced to take a contested shot in the lane. The big man's attempt hit the backboard and the rim before rolling off. Stone ripped the ball away from all comers and the visitors were forced to foul with 2.9 seconds left.
The senior's second free throw attempt found the cotton and gave Penn State Harrisburg a two-point advantage. Following a Bobcat timeout, Smoot received the inbounds pass, raced to midcourt and launched a desperation heave that missed its target by a matter of inches.
The horn sounded. Game: Lions.
Lyle finished with nine points and eight rebounds while Stone added five tallies and six boards. Stovall netted five and De Los Santos dished out a team-high four assists.
Penn State Harrisburg outrebounded the Bobcats 35-26 and shot 63.6 percent from the foul line compared to 61.1 percent by Frostburg State. The visitors outshot the Blue & White from distance, shooting 50 percent from beyond the arc (7-14) but cooled off in the second half as they only made two shots from downtown after the break. The Lions also got 13 points from their bench compared to just seven from the Bobcats' reserves.
The win improved Penn State Harrisburg to 4-4 on the year and 2-1 in CAC play. The Lions will get a few days to rest before they take part in Hood's Holiday Rotary Classic beginning on Saturday, Dec. 21. The team's first opponent is Southern Vermont. Tip-off is scheduled for 6 p.m.
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Photos and video courtesy of Penn State Harrisburg's Victoria Masse and Martika Porr