It was a heartbreaking way to lose a championship.
The Medaille men’s basketball team had gone ahead by as many as seven points late in the second half. But the Mavericks suffered from miscues and mistakes. They didn’t hit the big shot at the end. Penn State-Behrend did. And in the final minute it was the Lions who won the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference Championship, 63-60, in front of 397 at Hafner Recreation Center in Hamburg Saturday afternoon. Penn State-Behrend earned the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Tournament.
“Basketball is about making shots,” Medaille senior Anthony Battaglia said. “They made a shot. We didn’t.”
In a back-and-forth game, the title came down to the final minute. A drive by Josh Laureano gave Medialle a 58-56 lead but the Lions came back and Nick DeLisio nailed a three-pointer to put Behrend up by one.
Medaille turned the ball over on its next possession and fouled. Pat St. Andrews hit two free throws but the Mavericks weren’t done, as Laureano again scored on a drive to the basket making it a 61-60 game with 12.6 seconds left.
Medaille fouled, sending DeLisio to the line. He missed both free throws giving the Mavs a chance with 10 seconds left, but the execution wasn’t there and Keith Wallace nailed two free throws with one second left to secure the championship for Behrend.
“DeLisio made the shot for them,” Medaille coach Mike MacDonald said. “They had only made two three-pointers up until then so we gambled and played zone. We thought we had them up by two and we thought they were going to go inside to Russ Conley because he’s so good.
Conley, a 6-9 senior center for Behrend, scored a game-high 23 points, shooting 10 of 14 from the field, while grabbing nine rebounds.
Medaille used a 14-2 run early in the second half, going up by seven, 52-45, on a three-pointer by Alex Baron. But the Mavs were unable to sustain the momentum and the Lions, one of the best defensive teams in the country, got key stops to drive its offense.
“We just told the guys to keep playing,” Behrend coach Dave Niland said. “We needed to get stops because they kept scoring and then we needed to get the ball into our big kid down low.
“Medaille is so good in transition. If you don’t get back, they score. They’re so quick to the basket. And we’re fortunate that they missed a few.”
The Mavs shot 37 percent in the second half (10 of 27) while Behrend shot 46.2 percent for the game (24 of 52) thanks in large part to getting the ball inside to Conley, who had a perfect finishing touch around the basket.
Medaille ends its season at 18-10.
While the disappointment of losing a close game in the championship will sting for a while, nobody, not even the Mavs themselves, expected to be in this position.
The team had just three seniors — Battaglia (Depew), Laureano and Tyler Stevens (Depew) — and relied mostly on sophomores and freshmen.
“If you were to ask me in December if we’d be in the conference finals I would have said absolutely not,” said Battaglia, who had 12 points and six rebounds. “We only have three seniors, no juniors and all lower classmen. To make it here was awesome.”
Sophomore Jammal Coleman led the Mavs with 15 points and seven rebounds while junior Robby Seyler (Lew-Port) scored 12 off the bench.
Behrend jumped out early, driving the lane and taking advantage of some early foul trouble for the Mavs. Medaille was settling for one-on-one offense, which was producing one-and-done possessions. The Lions, meanwhile, made their early and easy shots and built a 10- point lead, going up 17-7 with about 11 minutes left in the opening half. But the Mavs came back and wound up with a 33-30 lead at the break.
Behrend (20-8) will discover its opponent when the bracket is announced on Monday. First round games will be held on Saturday.