The Penn State Wilkes-Barre Men's Basketball team recently competed in the United States Collegiate Athletic Association's (USCAA) National Championship Tournament, which was held this year on the campus of Penn State Fayette in Uniontown, Pa. The Mountain Lions played four games in as many days against top ranked opponents, posting a respectable 2-2 in the tournament to claim the sixth place spot in the season's final USCAA National Rankings.
At a pre-tournament banquet March 2, Penn State Wilkes-Barre player Frank Peters was named to the UCSAA Honorable Mention All-American Team, while teammate Michael Buczkowski was named an Academic All-American.
At a skills competition prior to the banquet, Mountain Lion's guard Jared James entertained a packed house in the slam dunk contest, narrowly missing top honors and finishing in second place.
The Mountain Lions had the honor of competing in the first game of the tournament on Wednesday, March 3 at 8 a.m., where they dropped a hard-fought 73-68 decision. With 3:46 to go in the game against Maine-Augusta, the Mountain Lions found themselves down by 16 points. With their backs against the wall and their pride on the line, the team focused on playing Mountain Lion's basketball.
A 21-8 Mountain Lion run cut the lead to just three points with 24 seconds to go in the game. However, the run fell short as Maine-Augusta held on for the victory. For the game, Peters matched Maine-Augusta's All-American center Moses Braithwaite step-for-step, as both finished with 21 points and 15 rebounds. John Sanderson stepped up on the national stage to toss in a season high 23 points in the loss, while center Shawn Washington added 10 points and 8 rebounds.
Ironically, that tough first round loss to eighth ranked University of Maine-Augusta was probably the catalyst that propelled the Lions through the consolation bracket and into the consolation finals; bad new for the Mountain Lions' next opponent, the Central Maine Mustangs, who entered the tournament as the number three team in the country.
The Mountain Lions went toe-to-toe with one of the USCAA's best on Thursday, March 4, before they ended the Mustangs' season with a thrilling 70-69 overtime victory, the school's first ever victory in a national playoff game. Colin Nurse took his turn in leading the Mountain Lions against Central Maine, recording both a game and career high 26 points, while Peters turned in another solid performance with 16 points and 12 rebounds.
Friday, March 5, brought a new day and a new challenge for the Mountain Lions, as highly regarded and second-ranked Penn State Beaver found themselves in Penn State Wilkes-Barre's sights. Penn State Beaver's stay was short lived as well, as Penn State Wilkes-Barre put forth a strong defensive effort, holding the reigning league champion Penn State Beaver team to almost 20 points below their season scoring average. The resulting 57-55 victory by Penn State Wilkes-Barre sent Penn State Beaver home tied for seventh place, and advanced the Back Mountain team into the fifth place consolation finals.
Sanderson and Nurse were again the leading contributors against Penn State Beaver, as Sanderson scored a game high 16 points while adding five assists; Nurse was right behind with 12 points.
With the fifth and final trophy on the line against the New Hampshire Technical Institute Lynx on Saturday, March 6, the Mountain Lions came out ready to roar as they jumped to a 20-10 lead early in the game. The Lynx battled back, however, and took a six-point lead into the locker room at halftime. During the second half, the Lynx proved to be a worthy opponent as they gradually pulled away to post a 73-60 victory and retain their fifth-place ranking.
Washington led the way in a valiant effort for the Mountain Lions with a game high 16 points and 7 rebounds, while Peters put forth another strong effort, pulling down 14 rebounds.
Head Coach Scott Miner summed up the experience by expressing his gratitude to the USCAA and the Penn State Wilkes-Barre community for their support and giving the team the chance to compete in the national tournament.
"This team accepted the responsibility of representing Penn State Wilkes-Barre and the entire area with class and dignity," Miner said. "I received numerous compliments [at the tournament] on the way our guys conducted themselves, both as competitors on the court as well as gentlemen off the court."
Miner added, "We went into the tournament ranked number nine, we gained some confidence and experience and earned some respect, and we finished ranked number six. I'm proud of them."