It wasn't exactly like the first game between the two teams, but Penn State Mont Alto will take the win anyway.
Back on Nov. 14, Mont Alto shredded Penn State Lehigh Valley 100-18 in the first game of the season. On Monday, it wasn't nearly as onesided. In fact, the home team had to scrape and claw for a 58-52 victory in a PSUAC game.
"Our defensive effort was not very good in the first half," said Mont Alto coach Jack Schenzel. "The second half we started to pick it up and shut them down. That was the difference in the game."
The game was played as part of a Semper Fi Rally. Proceeds from donations, a raffle, t-shirt sales and a silent auction will be given to the Semper Fi Fund, which supports wounded veterans. Mont Alto senior forward Dan Smay, a former Marine who also serves as an intern in the athletic department, organized the rally.
With former Marines in attendance and the Shippensburg University ROTC performing in an honor guard ceremony prior to the game, Monday's benefit game added a special touch to the night's festivities.
Smay led Mont Alto with 15 points and 11 rebounds. He also made two steals and four assists as Mont Alto won for the third time in five games and fifth time overall. Derek Null, who played his high school basketball at Waynesboro High School, finished with 11 points and nine rebounds. Tyree Maeser scored 12 points and had three assists and three steals.
Fight to the finish
On the court, it was a fight to the finish and a game of fits and spurts. It was fits for Mont Alto, which after leading for much of the first half, fell asleep on offense. The Lions did not score for two minutes and 34 seconds, during which Lehigh Valley went on a 6-0 run to take a 22-20 lead with 5:04 to play in the first half.
Finally, Cameron Bowen made two free throws at the 3:37 mark to tie the game, but Javier Rivera, who made back to back layups to give Lehigh Valley the two-point lead, made a jump shot to give the lead back to the visitors.
"I think as a group we came out a little flat against these guys," Schenzel said. "It took almost 30 minutes for them to realize it was going to be a dogfit. Once they realized that, they started to play our style of basketball."
Mont Alto outrebounded Lehigh Valley 34-18 and won despite committing 18 turnovers compared to nine for LV.
Lehigh Valley led 28-27 at halftime and Smay made sure his team's deficit didn't get any larger when he made a jump shot after getting an offensive rebound. Following a steal by Tyree Maeser, Smay made a layup. Mont Alto led 33-29 after a jump shot by Bowen, but, like they had all night, Lehigh Valley refused to go away. Rivera knocked down a 3-pointer and Ryan Smith made a layup to give the visiting Lions a 34-33 lead with 17:05 remaining.
The game went back and forth until Mont Alto took the lead for good with 51 seconds left. Trailing 48-44, Mont Alto's Jeffrey Bowie made a 3-point shot. After Rivera — who lit up the scoreboard for a game-high 35 points — made a jump shot, Jordan Dawson made two foul shots to make it 50-49. Smay followed up with a 3-pointer after another dryspell in which neither team scored in nearly two minutes.
Angel Vargas connected on a jump shot following a Mont Alto timeout to tie the game at 52 with 2:50 remaining and overtime looming as a strong possibility. But Maeser made a layup and Null made a layuup to give Mont Alto a 56-52 lead with just 15 seconds left in the game. Null completed the 3-point play with a free throw to make it 57-52.
"Derek and Dan were huge," Schenzel said. "They played a lot of the game — 36 minutes for Derek and 35 minutes for Dan. We haven't been getting a whole lot out of our paint players until the last three or four games. Derek has started to turn it on. He's starting to get a second wind."
Mont Alto hosts Penn State DuBois Wednesday at 8 p.m. The Lions close out the home portion of the schedule on Saturday against PSU Wilkes-Barre at 3 p.m.