BY JEFF FALK
ANNVILLE – Youth is exuberant.
Youth is curious.
Youth is unassuming.
But best of all, youth is resilient.
On Wednesday night at Lou Sorrentino Gymnasium, one of the youngest squads in the illustrious history of the Lebanon Valley College men’s basketball program endured some early season growing pains, during an 84-79 setback to Stevenson. Though the Flying Dutchmen competed with the required effort, their youth surfaced at various times, most notably late in the second half when the outcome was being decided.
The game represented the Middle Atlantic Conference Commonwealth opener for both sides and dropped LVC to 2-4 overall. Lebanon Valley, which graduated seven seniors from its 20-17-18 Commonwealth championship club, features nine freshmen and four sophomores.
With the outcome, Stevenson moved to 4-1 on the year and 1-0 in the circuit.
“We graduated seven seniors and lost 5,000 career points,” said Lebanon Valley head coach Brad McAlester. “I don’t think I’ve ever had this much turnover. We’ve got a lot of new guys, but we can score. We brought in some guys we really like.
“It’s (the chemistry and leadership) not there yet,” continued McAlester. “The combinations aren’t there yet. We’ve just got to keep working at it. We’ve got to stay as positive as we can and teach. It might be a couple of years or it might be this year.”
A lay-in from Trevor Covey with 5:50 remaining gave Lebanon Valley a 71-69 margin. But it would prove to be the last LVC lead of the evening.
Stevenson hit the Flying Dutchmen with a crippling 11-1 run over the next three minutes, to open an 80-72 bulge, with 2:50 to go.
“We played hard,” said McAlester. “We’ve got a really young group of kids, but they don’t quite understand everything yet. But they’re getting better. Down the road, it’s going to get better.
“I thought we played well in the second half,” McAlester continued. “But when it got down to the end, we took some tough shots. We’re just not there yet. They (his players) think they’re working hard, but they’ve got to work harder.”
Lebanon Valley enjoyed a number of slim leads early in the second half – 48-45 on a Jordan Abdo bucket, 53-49 courtesy of a Mason Green three-pointer and 55-51 thanks to a lay-up from Jaylen Reichner.
“At times we played good. At times we didn’t,” said McAlester of his defense. “We’ve got to get out on the ball better. That was a crucial, crucial part of the game. But the future of this team is really bright.”
Abdo paced the Valley with 28 points, while Green tossed in another 21. Covey collected a dozen Flying Dutchmen points, as did teammate A. J. Catanzaro.
The Mustangs made 49 percent of their field goal attempts.
“We’ve got a post player who’s pretty good, but he was on the bench with an injury,” said McAlester. “So tonight we were small. It’s all passing and cutting and movement. Right now, we don’t have anyone to get the ball to inside.”
LVC was at its best late in the first half, when it turned a ten-point deficit into a 41-35 lead, 3:12 before the break. With Green stroking four three-pointers and Abdo nailing two, Lebanon Valley outscored Stevenson 31-15 over a nine-minute stretch.
But the Mustangs notched eight of the first half’s final nine points to take a 43-42 margin to halftime.
“We got it going, but over the last two, two-and-a-half minutes (of the first half) we had some tough possessions,” said McAlester. “We didn’t play time and score. I don’t care if we miss shots, but we’ve got to get good ones.”
Over the initial 3:23 of the game, the Mustangs jumped out to a 12-2 lead.
“I’m not sure when the future is going to arrive,” said McAlester. “I think we’re good enough to make the (Commonwealth) playoffs. There’s a couple of strong teams in the conference. But other than that, there’s a lot of teams jockeying for position, like us and Stevenson.”
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