Five takeaways from Bellefonte’s playoff win over Hollidaysburg

TIM WEIGHT/FOR THE EXPRESS Bellefonte’s Nate Tice dribbles the basketball against Hollidaysburg on Tuesday night. The Red Raiders won the game, 46-34, to advance to the district championship.

By SHAREIK FLOWERS

sflowers@lockhaven.com

BELLEFONTE- Spirits are sky high in Bellefonte– and the exuberant demeanor is well-justified.

On Tuesday night the Red Raiders produced one of its most-complete performances of the season. They hammered out a 46-34 overtime win against Hollidaysburg in the opening round of the playoffs. It was Bellefonte’s first playoff victory since a 62-46 thumping versus Forest Hills, back on Feb. 22, 2006.

Bellefonte’s win set up the basketball program’s first appearance in a title game. They face Greater Johnstown for the district crown Feb. 25, with tip-off scheduled for 7:30 PM at Penn State Altoona’s Adler Arena.

But before we dissect that matchup– let’s revisit the Raiders’ playoff win against Hollidaysburg. Here are five takeaways from the game:

1. The Red Raiders are peaking at the right time

Bellefonte is playing its highest quality of basketball– and it couldn’t have happen at a more perfect time.

The Red Raiders are riding a three-game win streak, won five of their six previous outings and locked in a district title showdown with Tuesday’s win. Injured players have healed up, and the growing-team chemistry has led to results on the hardwood.

“That’s been the goal all along,” Bellefonte coach Kris Glunt said of peaking late in the season. “Everybody’s back and we’re starting to gel again. For the most part the ball’s been moving, it can be a different guy on any given night and we’re playing some great basketball.”

Bellefonte’s three-game surge began with a prolific 55-52 road win against the Central Dragons on Valentine’s Day. Ranking-wise, the game was meaningless. But to beat Central (17-5) on its home turf in a rowdy environment certainly was a momentum-booster for the season.

“That game was really just about going out there and getting ready for the playoffs,” Glunt explained of the Central meeting. “Our guys went out there and really used that game as an opportunity to act as a building block for the playoffs. That win really set the tone, and helped moved us in a positive direction at the right time of the year.”

2. Bellefonte’s free throw shooting against Hollidaysburg was critical

It’s imperative that teams convert uncontested shots–and the Raiders came up big in this department Tuesday.

Bellefonte shot a sturdy 17-20 from the charity stripe versus Hollidaysburg. They combined to hit 12-of-15 in the fourth and in overtime, and got a big contribution from Caleb Rocky. Rockey is shooting 60 percent from the foul line this season, but hit 7-of-8 (87.5 percent) versus Hollidaysburg.

“Our ability to knock down free throws, and close the game out, was crucial to that game,” Glunt said. “That tells me that mentally we’re very focused. Physically we’re capable of making free throws, but mentally we’re very checked in and focused.”

In practice Glunt and the coaching staff place an emphasis on hitting free throws consecutively. They often instruct players to hit three straight shots before they recess for a scheduled water break.

“Naturally, your better free throw shooters will spend less time at the free throw line, and the guys that need a little more work will spend a little more time there,” Glunt said of the drill. “That’s always been my philosophy.”

3. Hollidaysburg’s stalling impacted Bellefonte game plan

High school basketball is devoid of shot-clock rules, and yes, it’s ridiculous.

In the fourth quarter Hollidaysburg used every second of the clock. Midway through the fourth, with the game tied at 28, they stalled at the top of the key and dribbled around for 1 1/2 minutes before Jaden Delerme hit a jumper to give Hollidaysburg a 30-28 lead. Then again with the game tied 31-all, Hollidaysburg dribbled the ball for the final minute before a last second air-ball attempt sent the game into overtime.

In their two possessions that totaled 2 1/2 minutes, the Golden Tigers attempted just two shots. You could argue the wasted-scoring opportunities drastically reduced their chances of winning. But Glunt anticipated Hollidaysburg would stall and planned accordingly. After the stalling they shifted from a two-three zone to a full court press, and the defense was able to force Hollidaysburg into some mental lapses.

“We were prepared for that,” Glunt said. “And our mindset going into that game was that we were going to be aggressive, and that we were going to win the game rather than just try not to lose the game. “

4. Bellefonte’s overtime blowout was a total-team effort

Bellefonte and Hollidaysburg remained tied 31-31 entering overtime– but after regulation the Raiders blew past Hollidaysburg with ease.

They out-scored the Golden Tigers, 15-3, in overtime. Two key eye-grabbers from the box score show Bellefonte’s 15 points tied a quarter high in the game, even though overtime periods last just half the time (four minutes) of a normal period. And five Red Raiders (Caleb Rockey, Bailey Decker, Noah Badger, Ben McCartney and Nate Tice) combined for 15 points in the quarter.

Glunt was excited to see the balanced scoring of his squad.

“That’s just our mentality. We share the basketball and find the open man,” Glunt said. “Nate Tice did a good job of setting up guys inside, and Caleb Rockey and Noah Badger did a great job there in the fourth quarter and in overtime finishing at the basket.”

5. The playoff victory was a statement win

Members of the Greater Johnstown team made the 1 1/2 hour trip to Bellefonte to scout the Red Raiders and Golden Tigers. They arrived in the second quarter and left in overtime before Bellefonte’s 46-34 win.

Glunt was focused on Hollidaysburg and ignored Johnstown’s presence. But following the game’s conclusion, he hoped Tuesday’s win sent a signal to the Trojans (18-2) that Bellefonte’s ready to win it first district crown.

“I hope the message that we sent to them was that we’re a unified bunch and we’re not going to back down,” he said.

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