New Kensington basketball battling for playoff berth

With a berth in the conference playoffs on the line, the Penn State New Kensington men’s basketball team embarks this weekend on its final road trip before returning home for the four conference games to conclude the regular season.

The New Kensington Lions head east to meet Penn State University Athletic Conference rivals Penn State Schuylkill on Friday, Jan. 31, and Penn College on Saturday, Feb. 1. New Kensington is 4-7 and in third place in the PSUAC West division. Schuylkill is 0-9 and in last place in the South division. Penn College is 1-8 and at the bottom of the North.

First-year coach Art McCray has his team battling for one of two wild card berths in the conference playoffs. The top two teams in each of the three divisions plus two wild card teams comprise the eight-team post-season tournament field. New Kensington’s remaining six-game schedule features three teams who also covet the wild card designation.

The prospects for the playoffs improved Jan. 27 when New Kensington defeated Penn State DuBois, 62-60, in the Athletics Center. Freshman forward Matt Sutton had a game-high 15 points, shooting 6-7 from the field and 3-4 from the foul line. The 6-foot, 4-inch Sutton had 7 rebounds and 2 blocked shots for a solid all-around effort. Freshman guard Jordan Williams and sophomore guard Lou Payne scored in double figures with 12 and 10 points, respectively. DuBois had been tied for third place with New Kensington.

McCray’s squad opens its home stand at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 5, with a rematch against division foe Penn State Greater Allegheny. New Kensington is 3-3 in the Athletics Center, with the three losses coming at the hands of the top four teams in the conference. At 3-7, Greater Allegheny is a half a game behind New Kensington, which prevailed, 68-67, in the first match, Dec. 13 in McKeesport, Pa. Junior forward Shaquille Hager had a double-double, 22 points and 12 rebounds, in leading all scorers and rebounders.

After Greater Allegheny, fellow West division member Penn State Fayette visits the Athletics Center at noon, Saturday, Feb. 8. New Kensington will be looking to avenge a 78-68 loss Jan.16 at Fayette, the second-place team in the West division with a 7-3 record. Hager poured in a career-high 26 points against Fayette, shooting 66 percent (12-18) from the floor.

The PSUAC playoff field probably will not be set until Penn State Brandywine and Penn State Hazleton make their way into the Athletics Center. New Kensington meets Brandywine, 2-7 in the South, at 8 p.m., Friday, Feb. 14, and Hazleton, 3-6 in the North, at noon, Saturday, Feb. 15.

The PSUAC playoffs begin Feb. 18 at the home courts of the top four seeds and moves to the Bryce Jordan Center at Penn State University Park for the Final Four. The title game is slated for Saturday, Feb. 22.

The New Kensington Lions have won the conference basketball title 12 times, more than any other Penn State campus. The team’s last championship was in 2003. The campus’ last conference title was in 2012, when Adam Stawski won the PSUAC individual golf championship.

On the year, the New Kensington Lions are led in scoring by Hager, 11.4 points per game and senior guard Daryl Harrington, 10.5 points per game. Hagar, 6.6 rebounds per game, and Sutton, 5.7 rebounds per game, shoulder the defensive load.

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Last Updated January 29, 2014