Note: This article originally appeared in the Mirror on Sunday, March 1, 1998.
By Jim Lane
Mirror Sports Editor
LORETTO — The great players usually step up in the great games.
The word “great’’ might be too strong to characterize Aaron Morris at this stage of his basketball career, but he’s good. Very good.
Morris capped an outstanding performance by going coast-to-coast for a buzzer-beating lay-in that gave the Altoona Mountain Lions a 72-70 win over State College in the District 6 Quad-A championship game Saturday afternoon at St. Francis College.
“It’s great, unbelievable,’’ Morris said after his 27-point performance sparked the Mountain Lions to their first D6-AAA title since 1990.
In as good a championship game as you’d want to see, both teams made big runs and big shots all afternoon.
“If you didn’t like this, you don’t like basketball,’’ Altoona coach Art Taneyhill said.
Sparked by the guard play of Kenny Krimmel and Matt Tanner, State jumped to a 20-12 lead after one quarter.
The Little Lions led by 29-20 midway through the second before Altoona caught fire and tied it at 31 when Matt Durbin’s bucket beat the halftime buzzer.
The second half was even more heated as the teams continued to go toe-to-toe. There were 11 lead changes in the third quarter alone and the last one nearly brought the house down. It was a 30-foot 3-pointer by Altoona’s Michael Carney.
“I just threw it up and it went in,’’ said Carney, who had five treys in a 17-point outing.
Carney’s trey ignited the Lions, who went on to build leads of seven points on three difference occasions.
“I thought we had them,’’ Taneyhill said, “but they’ve got some great athletes and hit some clutch shots.’’
Chris Roser-Jones and Tanner led SC’s comeback, and Krimmel canned a pair of fouls to shove the Little Lions on top 66-65.
Altoona reclaimed the lead when Todd Johnson, who got the better of Larry Johnson in the battle of postmen, hit a short jumper.
Krimmel’s trey made it 69-67 State with 51 seconds left. Then, after Morris missed a trey, Krimmel had a chance to put it away at the foul line with 23 ticks left.
Krimmel missed the first, but made the second to give SC a 70-67 lead.
However, another pressure NBA-range “3’’ by Carney tied it.
“I told Durbin to penetrate, kick it back to me and I’d hit it,’’ said Carney.
Carney was true to his word, but State still had 15 seconds to work for the winner.
It didn’t happen. As Krimmel headed for the basket, Durbin slapped the ball away from behind. It rolled into the key where Morris picked it up.
Then it was a race to the other end and Morris was the winner, putting on a beautiful move at the top of the circle and banking in the biggest shot of his career as the buzzer sounded.
“When I got the ball, there were six seconds left,’’ Morris recalled. “I was going to take it to the hoop, no matter what. It felt so good.’’
Taneyhill wasn’t surprised by Morris’ heroics.
“Aaron was tough,’’ the Altoona coach said. “If he has a fault, it’s that he sometimes tries to do too much.
“I thought he might stop (for a jump shot),’’ Taneyhill said, “but, when he made the cutback, I knew he was going to the hoop.’’
Durbin did, too.
“Aaron hit everything today,’’ Durbin recounted. “I was with him, but it was his show and he took over.’’
SC coach Drew Frank second-guessed himself for not calling a timeout after Carney’s trey tied the game with 15 seconds left.
“They hit big shots all night and it was chaotic at the point,’’ Frank said. “Whether he was fouled or not, we turned it over.
“You can’t have a better option than Kenny Krimmel with the defense retreating,’’ Frank continued, “but I probably should have called a timeout to make sure we held for the shot we wanted.’’
Instead, Altoona came away with the prize, its first D6 boys’ crown since the 1990 team, that included seniors Kevin Colombo, Doug Pfeffer and Tom Hurliman, as well as underclassmen Brian Rehm and Steve Taneyhill, beat Hollidaysburg in the final.
And, after years of success with the girls’ program, Art Taneyhill orchestrated a title in his second year with the boys.
“I don’t think you could draw it up any better,’’ the coach said. “I’ve been part of some great wins and this ranks up there with the best of them.’’
Altoona will play Bethel Park, District 7’s fourth seed, in the first round of the state playoffs Saturday.
STATE COLLEGE (70): Tanner 6-10 2-5 17, Williamson 1-4 0-0 3, L. Johnson 1-4 2-3 4, Roser-Jones 4-4 10-13 19, Krimmel 6-11 7-10 21, Frank 3-6 0-0 6, Thompson 0 0-0 0. Totals — 21-39 21-31 70.
ALTOONA (72): Carney 6-12 0-0 17, Morris 10-18 6-6 27, Nedimyer 1-3 0-0 3, T. Johnson 4-9 2-5 10, Durbin 3-8 0-0 6, Galbraith 3-6 1-2 7, Moran 1-2 0-0 2, Kessinger 0-1 0-0 0. Totals — 28-59 9-13 72.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
State College 20 11 16 23 — 70
Altoona 12 19 19 22 — 72
3-point goals—State College 7-15 (Tanner 3-5, Krimmel 2-4, Roser-Jones 1-1, Williamson 1-4, Frank 0-1); Altoona 7-24 (Carney 5-11, Nedimyer 1-3, Morris 1-5, Galbraith 0-1, Moran 0-1, Durbin 0-3). Rebounds—State College 29 (L. Johnson 9), Altoona 24 (T. Johnson 7). Assists—State College 11 (Williamson, Krimmel 3), Altoona 17 (Durbin 10). Fouled out—None. Total fouls—State College 16, Altoona 22. Technicals—None. Attendance—2,500. Officials—Wotkowski, Danel, Gramling.