LHU basketball squads are young and fun to watch

Lock Haven University’s Taylor Leidy dribbles the ball in an NCAA women’s college basketball game. The Lady Eagles are 8-5 on the season.

By SAM KUPERMAN

For The Express

It’s easy to monitor a team from afar by briefly eyeing a game recap or scanning a box score. You get the basics without investing all that much time into the team it is you’re interested in.

I’m telling you that both of the Lock Haven 2018-19 basketball teams deserve far more time than just a simple glance at the paper; they’re by far worth the nominal price of admission.

The men’s team is 5-5, with a 4-3 mark in Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) play. Meanwhile, the women are 8-5 and 4-3 in the PSAC. The records are stark contrasts from the showings both groups put forth last year (they were 8-18 and 5-21 respectively), but how each unit is playing is what is especially intriguing.

We’ll start with the men’s team. With only two fourth-year players on the team, youth hasn’t gotten in the way of the Bald Eagles playing an unselfish brand of basketball. Wings Christian Kelly (a junior) and Matt Cerruti (a sophomore) each average 18 points per game through 10 contests, good for ninth best in the conference. Five players average nine or more points per game.

This diversified-scoring effort was on full display Saturday, in a 88-77 victory over Mansfield. Despite a nicked up bench, six of the seven players that took the floor scored in double figures. Four of them had 14 or more, as Kelly paced the team with 22.

The team isn’t afraid to let it fly from deep. The Bald Eagles are sixth in the conference in three-point percentage, Individually, Cerruti ranks third in shooting from behind the arc, hitting over 46 percent of his threes.

The way the team generates looks from deep is fun to watch. It’s not about guys holding onto the ball and taking tough shots. Lock Haven has the ball zipping around the floor, players are cutting without the basketball, and the right shots are taken within the offense. LHU doesn’t have the size that some other teams might possess, but coach Mike Nestor’s team is full of smart players that are invested in the game plan.

While Nestor has brought in some highly-skilled players during his eight years at The Haven, in years past the team has been much more isolation oriented.

Last year’s group was led by then-sophomore Amir Hinton, who’s 23.4 points per game were good for tenth in the NCAA. Hinton is now at Shaw University in North Carolina. He’s unquestionably an immense talent, but the team had trouble winning when he had an off game, and it was a grind even when he was on.

Now, despite having lost 67 percent of its scoring from last year’s bunch, Lock Haven is thriving.

The women’s team is a little different, in that much of its core is comprised of returning players. These are players that were extremely young last year though, so outside expectations weren’t the highest coming in.

The team won seven of its first eight games, which included a six-game winning streak. That stretch brought LHU up to as high as ninth in the Atlantic Region Poll, a feat the program hadn’t achieved since the 1990-91 season.

While a four-game losing streak took place towards the end of December, the Bald Eagles snapped that with a 80-46 demolition of Mansfield Saturday. Lock Haven hit 12 three pointers in that game, and was led by sophomore forward Ahnera Parker’s 21 points in just 21 minutes.

Junior Rileigh Devine’s, and reigning all-conference performer averages nearly 14 points per game. This is most on the team. Just like with the men’s team though, it’s not about one player.

Three players average double-figure scoring marks, with five dropping over eight points per game. The group is deep, with 10 players taking the floor in at least 12 of Lock Haven’s first 13 games.

12th year head coach Jennifer Smith has asked her team to play more up-tempo this year. That means seeking transition opportunities, often pressuring in the backcourt defensively, and continuously being on the move. It’s worked, as LHU is fifth in the PSAC in scoring while maintaining a positive point-differential.

A big part of this rejuvenated team, which surpassed last year’s win total by the end of the first weekend of December, is the addition of freshman guard Taylor Leidy. She’s already earned two PSAC East Freshman of the Week awards, while stuffing the stat sheet in every column.

She is in the top three on the Bald Eagles in points, rebounds, assists and steals. Her 3.9 assists per game are seventh best in the conference, and her assist to turnover ratio is the fourth highest in the PSAC. Needless to say, coach Smith is pleased to have her on board.

There are a lot of players from both teams that I feel guilty of inadvertently slighting by not including their achievements to date in this article. However, that’s the beauty in watching both Lock Haven basketball squads.

It’s not about one player. These are two teams that play hard and play together. I can’t think of a better way to enjoy basketball than to watch two local teams that play it the right way.

So take my word, and venture over to the Thomas Fieldhouse Saturday afternoon when these teams have a doubleheader against Cal. You might just find yourself inclined to keep coming back to watch more throughout the winter months.

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