ANNVILLE – During uneven times, they’ve been remarkably consistent.
During an on-going pandemic, they’ve remained relatively healthy.
During a unique year, they’ve had a special season.
Even when it’s lost, the Lebanon Valley College men’s basketball team has made the best of it.
On Friday night at LVC’s Lou Sorrentino Gymnasium, the Flying Dutchmen earned the right to host next week’s MAC Commonwealth championship game, despite suffering a 78-69 setback to Stevenson in their regular season finale. Lebanon Valley was awarded the honor of hosting when Alvernia shocked Albright 83-81 at the overtime buzzer.
A night earlier, the Flying Dutchmen had qualified for the championship contest with a 94-88 triumph at Stevenson. Now 8-2 overall and 7-2 in the conference, Lebanon Valley will entertain Albright on Thursday for all the MAC Commonwealth marbles.
The last time the Flying Dutchmen won an MAC Commonwealth championship was during the 2017-18 season.
Last night’s outcome upped Stevenson’s overall and league records to 4-6.
“Hopefully this will be an awakening and the guys will refocus,” said Lebanon Valley head coach Brad McAlester. “We’re much better than we were last year. We’re more of a team. These guys play together, they have fun and they listen.
“Several kids are going to come back and play an extra year,” continued McAlester. “We, quite frankly, didn’t play well tonight. But every game is a win. Every practice is a win. My guys have been very good at behaving and staying together as a team.”
After the outcome hung in the balance most of the way, Stevenson came up with a few key plays down the stretch,
Two foul shots from Collin Jones gave the Flying Dutchmen a 64-63 edge, with 4:31 to play. Then two minutes later, LVC senior Justin Baker converted an old-fashioned three-point play to put the home side up 69-68.
But over the final 2:20, Stevenson netted the last ten points of the contest.
“We made a couple of bad decisions,” said McAlester. “Number Three (Stevenson guard Norman Hughes) is a terrific shooter. We need to contest that ‘three’ (which gave Stevenson a 74-69 lead) better. We’re usually aggressive defensively, but tonight we were not.
“We didn’t deserve to win that game,” added McAlester. “But we’re in it to win it. Both games we’ve lost this year have been close. But tonight we were careless with the basketball.”
Stevenson opened the second half with a 12-4 run to turn a one-point halftime deficit into a 45-38 advantage. Later, the Flying Dutchmen responded with a 7-2 run fueled by five points from Jones and a Zack Tucker lay-in, to draw within 52-50 of the lead.
“We fought. We wanted it,” said McAlester. “But you’re playing two nights in-a-row. They (Stevenson) were due. They’re (back-to-back games) tough. The zone was helping, but they (Stevenson) made a couple of tough ‘threes’.
“At the beginning of the season, we were just hoping to play basketball,” McAlester added. “A lot of colleges aren’t. The gym has been completely closed, they won’t even let parents in. We’re just fortunate they gave us an opportunity to play.”
Jones poured in a game-high 21 points and hauled down 11 rebounds, while Tucker notched 13 points and Baker, a Lebanon High product, contributed 11. Lebanon Valley shot 46 percent from the floor, but was guilty of 23 turnovers.
“We just didn’t take care of the ball,” said McAlester. “We’ve got to be sharper with the ball. We’ve also got to know our roles. If you’ve got an open ‘three’, it might be because they scouted you.”
Lebanon Valley tallied six of the game’s first eight points and led by varying amounts through most of the first half. A lay-up by Jones 6:26 in gave the Flying Dutchmen a 12-4 advantage.
“The whole year we’ve been consistent,” said McAlester. “Even when we’ve gotten down, we’ve fought back. Even though we didn’t have a great night tonight, Justin (Baker) has been playing great. His development makes him one of the most improved players I’ve ever had here.
“He and Tucker were on that last championship team,” McAlester continued. “Very few guys get a chance to win two championships. Most guys don’t get a chance at one.”
Late in the first half, Stevenson reeled off eight unanswered points to take its first lead of the contest, 27-22. But the Flying Dutchmen concluded the half with a 12-6 spurt and took a 34-33 edge to the locker room on another Jones lay-up.