Penn State Hazleton hit on all cylinders Monday night against Penn State Mont Alto winning the game 80-64, and in the process qualified for the Penn State University Athletic Conference playoffs. They will face Penn State York at York in a semi-final game to be played at York with a 7 PM tip off scheduled. The game was rescheduled from an earlier date after winter weather caused the push-back and couldn't have come at a better time for Hazleton (who needed the win combined with a Penn State Fayette loss) to make the playoffs; the win was also the third in a row for Hazleton after losing a heartbreaking last-second loss to Penn State Wilkes-Barre.
Mont Alto's Quintyn Flemister led all scorers with 26 points hitting five of six from the three-point line and sinking 10 field goals. Mont Alto's bench contributed for 20 points but was hurt by the absence of guard Jalen Smith who did not make the trip due to illness - Smith was averaging 20.6 points per game at the time. Brandon Mohammed led the way for Hazleton knocking down 18 points and pulling down 15 rebounds. Shay Nelson was a force inside with Mohammed adding 16 points and grabbing 9 rebounds while Nick Nowak hit for 15 points and Robbie Hopkins added 10 points.
The game started with both teams struggling to score - after many attempted missed by both teams, Jihad Warner hit a layup for Mont Alto at the 17:46 mark. Quintyn Flemister hit a three point shot two minutes later and Hazleton called a quick 30 second time out to regroup being down 5-0 and missing shots. The strategy worked as Nick Nowak b roke the ice and put Hazleton on the board. Mont Alto pushed the lead to 8-2 but that would be the last they would enjoy a lead for the rest of the game. Brandon Mohammed hit an outside jumpshot followed up by a layup for two and the home team was back into the game. A Mohammed free throw, a Nowack jumper and a trey by Ryan Wolfe and Hazleton had it's first lead of the game 12-8. The one-two punch of Mohammed and Shay Nelson on the inside the trio of Nowak, Hopkins and Wolfe hitting from the outside kept Mont Alto at bay throughout the entire half. By the 4:19 mark of the first half Hazleton stretched its lead to 17 points, leading 34-17. Mont Alto would not give in with more than a half of basketball left to play and made a run at Hazleton closing the gap to 28-36 at the half.
Mont Alto came out of the locker room determined not to let Hazleton have an easy game. After a Shay layup, Terrell Campbell answered with a layup for Mont Alto, followed a Ryan Hege layup and Hazleton found the need for a quick 30 second time when the score hit 38-32. Once again, the time-out did the trick as Hopkins sunk a trey followed up by a Mohammed layup pushed the Hazleton lead back to double digits. Still, Mont Alto would not roll over with so much basketball left to play and made run after run at Hazleton. At the 13:39 mark of the half, Mont Alto chipped away at the Hazleton lead and brought themselves back to a three point game, trailing 47-44. A Nowak bucket and free throw ended the drought for Hazleton and they went on a push of their own and started to extend their lead once again. They then found their long range eye and proceeded to hit seven of 11 from long range. By the 1:26 mark, Hazleton pushed the lead out to 19 points punctuated by a Brandon Mohammed slam dunk. Matt Manbeck capped off the victory sinking a long range bomb to end the scoring with Hazleton on top 80-64.
Hazleton shot a blistering 48% (31-65) from the floor and 40% (10-25) from beyond the arc while Mont Alto shot 40% (25-63) of their field goals and 33% (7-21) from three point range. Rebounds, Points in the paint and points off of turnovers were all extremely evenly matched by both teams but the Hazleton made the most of their second chance points hitting 16 to Mont Alto's eight.
WIth the win, Hazleton ended up the regular season at 12-13 but more importantly ended it's conference record at 6-6 and gained that all important PSUAC playoff berth.