When you get to playoff competition on the collegiate basketball level, nothing is a given.
Beating a team handily during the regular season may not mean a lot in the postseason.
Playing the entire playoffs on your home court doesn’t guarantee a thing.
Those are lessons that the Penn State York men’s basketball learned the hard way Sunday afternoon after a 60-58 loss to Penn State Greater Allegheny in the Penn State University Athletic Conference title game.
The local Lions were favored to capture their fourth PSUAC crown in the last five years. Coach Parrish Petry’s team earned the No. 1 seed after completing the regular season with a 15-1 conference record. Being the top seed also earned the local Lions the right to play host to the semifinals and finals at the Joe and Rosie Ruhl Center. Plus, PSY trounced Allegheny by nearly 40 points in their only regular-season clash.
None of that ultimately mattered Sunday.
The visitors, who led for the vast majority of the contest, rallied back after the home team took a slim lead twice in the final moments. Trailing G-A by two points with 7.9 seconds left, York was able to get the ball to its No. 1 option in Trent Thomas. The Red Lion High School graduate missed his shot, but drew a foul with a chance to even up the score with just one second left.
Thomas, however, missed the first free throw and, after a timeout, missed again. His teammates were unable to get a tip to tie it before the buzzer sounded, giving Allegheny the win.
The No. 2 seed, after a 14-2 regular season, claimed its first-ever PSUAC title. G-A also earned an automatic berth into the United States Collegiate Athletic Association playoffs.
“It’s tough,” Petry said. “I know it’s cliché, but we’re proud of these guys and what they’ve done and accomplished. We knew it would be a tremendously different game than the first time.”
Petry acknowledged that the previous contest back on Jan. 28, which PSY won 102-65, was not reflective of the type of team G-A is. Allegheny was forced to play at Mont Alto near Chambersburg the prior night before getting on a bus for an afternoon contest on York’s home court.
This time, the visitors were better rested. Sure they had to play Saturday and defeat Penn State Wilkes-Barre in overtime to get to the final, but G-A was able to stay in York overnight before Sunday’s 5 p.m. tip-off.
The difference showed on the court and scoreboard. Petry’s club scored more than 90 points 10 times during the season, but PSY was never able to get close to that against G-A. PSY also had to play from behind for most of the contest.
Jordon Payne certainly lived up to his surname against York. The G-A guard poured in a game-high 29 points that included six made attempts from beyond the arc.
Payne, typically an adept free throw shooter, did come up short several times in the final minutes at the line. But he made his second attempt with 7.9 seconds left to stretch the lead to 60-58. That free throw proved essential after Thomas, who led York with 22 points, missed with one second remaining. Otherwise Thomas would have had one more chance to tie it up.
Instead Petry had to get his team prepared for what to do with not much time left.
“We’re trying to hold the big guy (George Prota) down,” Petry said of G-A’s 6-foot, 7-inch center, who tallied 16 rebounds. “And we’re trying to hit the back of the rim. We wanted to try to get a higher rebound and see if we could get our other big, Richard Grant, to maybe get a tip in.”
As the final buzzer sounded, the G-A players all stormed the court in front of a stunned York side. It was a feeling that many of the York players were not prepared for. Many of the PSY players either had tears in their eyes or somber looks on their faces.
Petry, who coached York to PSUAC titles in 2013, 2014 and 2015, knows how hard it is to win in the playoffs. And to do it on a non-neutral site makes the feat even all the more impressive.
“I give them all the credit in the world,” he said. “They come in here and beat us on our home floor. It is what it is.”
Reach Ryan Vandersloot at firstname.lastname@example.org.