LJ Santa Maria
The team split its home games, w inning the opener against Johnson 99-58 yet losing a heartbreaker the next night 74-72 to Lehigh Community. There was an anxious excitement leading into the home opener. No one really knew what to expect from this year's team with a starting lineup that includes two freshmen, Ashkan Naderi and Miguel Rodriguez. Despite the uncertainty, Hazleton expected to take both these games.
Opening night, PSU HN came out with a lot of energy and were very ready to play against Johnson College. They jumped out to a big lead early in the game that they never relinquished. They relied heavily on the three-ball as they will all year long, as well as a very aggressive defensive style, doubling the ball handler whenever possible, using active hands to start fast breaks the other way.
''We just came out to play. We played i nto our roles the way we are supposed to. The offense was flowing smoothly, we had a lot of energy on defense, and overall that's how we should play every night," said Naderi.
"Our motto this year is to live and die by the three. We can all shoot threes. Even Colby Major, who is our stretch four, can also shoot it," said Naderi.
As a team, Hazleton shot 34.7 percent from the field, but shot 42.9 percent from behind the arch. Being such an undersized team, they will struggle to get easy buckets in the paint.
Alexander Akabogu led the way in scoring with 21 points, followed by Rodriguez making his collegiate debut, dropping 20. Even against an undersized opponent in Johnson College, the team's offense ran on dribble penetration to kick it out and hit the three point shots. Though the three has worked for the team, Akabogu hopes they don't become over- reliant on it.
"Personally, I do not like it," said Akabogu. "But we are small so if we can drive the lane, draw two defenders and kick out to an open shooter, then I can live with that."
In the second home matchup with Lehigh Carbon Community College, Penn State came out sluggish and looked tired.
"We did not bring enough energy as we did the previous night. This is a lesson l earned that you cannot decide to give effort with five minutes left in the game and expect to come away with a win," said Akabogu.
Hazleton was always within striking distance but it seemed as if PSU HN was never in the game, something Naderi attributes to the schedule.
"We came out with no energy. I think we were tired from back-toback games since guys are not used to that. We rallied with five minutes left, but that's not enough. We got out-rebounded by their big man not because we could not grab the boards, but because we did not want to," said Naderi.
This was certainly an opponent they need to be able to beat, and being outrebounded 40-28 shows their glaring weakness down low.
Hazleton shot an atrocious 28.4 percent from the field. The team duplicated the previous night's 42.9 percent from three point range but this will not get the job done night in and night out in conference play.
Although Naderi had 19 points, he only compiled two assists to go with four turnovers. He lead the team in shot attempts as well as three point attempts which is never a good recipe for success.
PSU HN's next home game is Nov 15 where they will host Division II opponent Bloomsburg University. Bloomsburg is coming off a road trip to Syracuse University and Akabogu doesn't expect the match- up to be easy.
"It is going to be a tough one. We are really going to have to limit our mistakes and capitalize on most of our opportunities to give ourselves a chance," said Akabogu.