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Lions show their character in double-OT win over St. John’s

March 3, 2008
The Altoona Mirror
Note: This article originally appeared in the Mirror on Monday, Feb. 25, 1985.

By Jim Lane

Mirror Sports Editor

Hollywood couldn’t have written a better script.

The biggest game of the season ... tremendous crowd ... double overtime ... the home team wins in the closing seconds.

That’s how it happened Saturday night when Doug West buried a 20-foot jumper with 10 seconds left in the second overtime to lift the Altoona Mountain Lions to a 44-43 win over Washington D.C. St. John’s before more than 2,600 fans — the largest paid attendance ever to see a game at the AAHS fieldhouse.

“I’m not usually one to boast but that’s easily the greatest high school basketball game this area has ever seen and probably will see for a long time,’’ Altoona Coach Larry Betar said.

It was billed as the game of the year locally, and it was just that.

Through 20 games, the Mountain Lions had seldom been pushed. However, they got a big test Saturday and we equal to the challenge.

With five minutes left in the third quarter, the Lions trailed by 12 points — 34-22.

It was character-tester time and the Lions responded. West and Mike Iuzzolino combined for 13 unanswered points and the Lions shot in front 35-34 on an Iuzzolino drive seven seconds before the end of the third quarter.

It was cat and mouse the rest of the way, with each team taking turns sitting on the ball and working for possible game-winning shots.

When you’ve got a player the caliber of West you go to him in the critical situations. His basket tied the score at 40 and sent the game into the first overtime.

In the first three-minute extra session, Mike Tate, St. John’s excellent forward, put the Cadets on top with a jumper from the key. Frank Dicken answered for the Lions, getting his biggest hoop of the season on a rebound.

That set up the second overtime. Craig Curry’s fifth foul sent Tate to the line with 1:01 left. Tate hit the first and missed the second by Bobby Jones rebounded for St. John’s.

The Cadets worked the clock to 42 seconds and called timeout. When play resumed the Cadets milked it to 21 seconds before West picked off an errant pass.

Now it was Altoona’s turn for strategy. The Lions called timeout and Betar set the play for West — a jumper behind an Iuzzolino pick. West stuck it and the Lions had proved they could come from behind against a great team.

“I thought the ball was going through when I shot it,’’ West said. “When I shot it, I didn’t even look. I jumped up about three times and just took off up the court. Mike (Iuzzolino) set a great pick and that’s the shot I wanted.’’

Joe Gallagher, who has won more than 700 games in 36 years of coaching at St. John’s, offered no excuses why his team failed to execute the delay game, subsequently losing the lead and the game.

“We just dribbled too much and got out of position. You can’t do that against a good club,’’ Gallagher said. “Altoona has a very fine team. They’re in the class with the best of them.’’

The key to Altoona’s comeback?

“Us,’’ Gallagher replied quickly. “We didn’t play disciplined basketball and you’ve got to credit Altoona for that. They put a lot of defensive pressure on us.’’

Betar agreed defense won it for the Lions.

“Our defense was excellent. Not tenacious, but we played with a lot of heart and guts and hustle. Defense kept us in it until we were able to work out our offensive kinks,’’ Betar said.

Like Betar, Altoona players agreed the win was a confidence builder because they were able to overcome more adversity than they faced all season.

“The win means everything to me and to the team,’’ Bob Bradfield said. “When we were down 12, coach just told us to pick away at it and we did. Our defense was the key.’’

“This is the kind of basketball Altoona needs,’’ Iuzzolino said. “In our comeback, coach was trying to isolate me and Doug. We really got some great passes and great picks.’’

Dicken, making perhaps his most significant contribution of the season, called it “the greatest feeling of my life.’’

“We’re going. I can feel it. The team effort was just awesome. We got down but we stuck together,’’ Dicken said.

“This can only give us more confidence and enable us to continue our momentum,’’ Betar said. “I’ve felt that our program was always on the map. Now I think we’re on the verge of being there nationally.’’

GAME NOTES: Lions hit 20 of 47 shots with West (9x18) getting 19 points and Iuzzolino (6x11) 12 ... West passed Dick Johnston to move into third place on the all-time Altoona scoring chart with 1,430 points ... Cadets, now 19-6, clicked on 17 of 46 shots with Tate scoring 17 and Charley Olayinka 13 ... St. John’s had 34-28 edge in rebounds. West grabbed seven, Dicken and Iuzzolino six each ... Bradfield had six assists ... Lions close the regular season by hosting DuBois Tuesday.

Altoona (44): West 9 1-2 19, Little 1 0-0 2, Curry 0 2-2 2, Bradfield 3 1-3 7, Iuzzolino 6 0-0 12, Dicken 1 0-3 2, Hatfield 0 0-0 0. Totals — 20 4-10 44.

St. John’s (43): Tate 6 5-8 17, Olayinka 5 3-5 13, Jones 2 0-0 4, Crittenden 3 1-2 7, Jordan 1 0-0 2. Totals — 17 9-15 43.

Score by quarters

Altoona 12 6 17 5 2 2 — 44

St. John’s 11 14 9 6 2 1 — 43

Officials: Bob Kozlowski, Bill Sherbondy

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