ANNVILLE – It was sort of like Sleeping Beauty awaking from a long, spell-induced slumber. The only difference was that when the Lebanon Valley College men’s basketball team emerged from its sleep, there was no Princess Charming waiting.
On Wednesday night at the LVC Gymnasium, the Flying Dutchmen snapped out of a rare six-game losing skein and beat Lycoming 84-75. But the win may prove to be too little too late for an LVC squad desperately seeking a postseason berth.
After trailing most of the first half, Lebanon Valley came out of the locker room on fire, got a lead and then made enough plays down the stretch to hold on.
The triumph pushed Lebanon Valley, which had last won on Jan. 12, to 8-14 overall and 5-10 in the Commonwealth Conference. To have any shot at a playoff spot, the Flying Dutchmen must win all three of their remaining games and pray for divine intervention.
Lycoming, which had fallen 90-86 to LVC in Willamsport on Jan. 9, dropped to 14-8 on the campaign and 8-7 in the conference.
“They’re all must-wins for us,” said Lebanon Valley head coach Brad McAlester. “We’re not out of it, but almost. We need to win out and get a lot of help. We pretty much have to win all three, and it’s still probably a long shot. Plus, we just haven’t won in a while.
“We’re always trying to get to the playoffs, always,” McAlester added. “Injuries hurt us a lot this year. Losing six in-a-row and only having ten guys at practice, night classes, guys sick – it was a lot of little things. But the guys are still playing hard. They’re still giving the effort. It would be easy to give up, but we haven’t.”
After facing a 38-35 deficit at the break, Lebanon Valley notched the first ten points of the second half. Kevin Agnew notched five on a trey and a couple of charity tosses, Kyler Burke contributed a lay-in and Matt O’Brien capped the burst with a three-pointer that gave the Flying Dutchmen a 45-38 margin.
LVC would never give up the lead again.
“You saw them play,” said McAlester of his charges. “They’re playing hard. Kids are very resilient. They just enjoy playing.
“Right now we’re playing for pride and wins,” McAlester added. “We could’ve given up. We got down in the first half and we could’ve stopped playing, but we kept going. The key in this game was offensive rebounds. We had 15 offensive rebounds and we got some big rebounds.”
After the Flying Dutchmen opened a 72-61 advantage on a couple of Matt O’Brien foul shots, Lycoming tallied the next nine points to pull within a deuce, with 4:35 to go. But with its season on the line, Lebanon Valley took care of its business at the charity stripe and by coming up with stops on the defensive end.
“Tonight we had a lot of different guys scoring, which is nice,” said McAlester. “It’s something we’ve been struggling with. When you do that, other teams can’t focus on one or two players. If you can do that, you can win. And we made our foul shots.”
Yes, the Flying Dutchmen’s scoring was balanced. Agnew, who recently lost time to a bum ankle, poured in a team-high 21 points on 11 of 12 free throwing, while senior inside banger Danny Brooks went for 19 points and nine boards.
O’Brien pumped in a dozen points, as did senior Garrett Kelly, on four three-pointers. Lebanon Valley overcame 19 turnovers.
“We haven’t had Kevin Agnew for the last five or six games and tonight he scored 21 points,” said McAlester. “He’s definitely a factor. He’s the one guy who can shoot from the outside.
“He’s (Agnew) important,” McAlester added. “He can score and hit the outside shot. But we really need him bringing the ball up and running the offense. He’s clearly important.”
It was an 18-17 game when LYCO embarked on a 17-6 journey which gave it a 35-23 bulge 2:30 before the intermission. But behind two three-pointers from Kelly and four foul shots from Agnew, Lebanon Valley closed to within 36-35 over the next 1:49.
“When we haven’t played well we’ve had trouble scoring, more than anything else,” said McAlester, who entered the 2012-13 campaign with a 290-193 career record at LVC and as the program’s winningest coach. “We’re getting good looks. We’re just missing lay-ups and jump shots.”
In his first 11 years at the Flying Dutchmen’s helm, McAlester’s clubs qualified for the conference playoffs ten times. But if Lebanon Valley misses the Commonwealth Conference postseason this year, it will mark the sixth time in the past eight seasons that LVC has done so.
“It’s gotten more athletic, clearly,” said McAlester of the Commonwealth Conference, specifically,and Division Three, in general. “Traditionally it wasn’t. It makes it harder. We’ve got to play smart basketball. We’ve added two more teams (to the conference) and both are good. Every game is a war.
“Absolutely, I’m pleased with the direction of the program,” McAlester continued. “It’s fine. We’ve got to try to get good players and go from there. Recruiting is the key. It’s much easier to coach good players. Talent always prevails, on every level. Recruiting is important.”