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Men's Basketball Never Back Down in Close Loss

Shyheim Flanagan dribbles past a defender.

NEW KENSINGTON, Pa. - The Penn State New Kensington men's basketball team fell to Penn State Wilkes-Barre at home on Sunday in an energetic bout.

Sunday afternoon's game in the Athletic Center was the epitome of a nail-biter. New Kensington's opponent, Penn State Wilkes-Barre, had everything to lose coming into the contest with a record of 15-2.

New Kensington was anything but passive in the opening minutes with Evan Clarke (Aston, Pa. / Garnet Valley) kicking off the scoring. The defense again came together to create an arduous series of drives for the Wilkes-Barre offense. In recent games, the men's defense has proven to be their savior in crucial moments of the contest and today was no different.

While one man cannot make up a defense, Jovan Kojic (Subotica, Serbia / Canterbury) is about as close to a one-man defense as it gets. The New Kensington defense managed 5 blocks in the first half, many of them coming by the hand of Kojic.

On the other side of the ball, Shyheim Flanagan (St. Martinville, La. / Westside) kept up a hot pace driving down the court from the right, permitting Joseph Dusabe (St. Martinville, La. / Westside) and Evan Clarke a spot under the hoop for the score. In fact, the entire game was very intimate. In the first half alone, New Kensington took 16 of their 26 points inside the paint. Scoring leaders at the half were Shyheim Flanagan with seven points,  Evan Clarke with six, and Benjamin Cunningham (Woodbridge, Va. / Christ Chapel Academy) with four.

Sunday's contest was equivalent to a main event heavyweight match where each side took their respective blows but no one ever went down. The men's offense only became more dangerous in the final minutes. The scoring carried on for both sides through the first 10 minutes of the second half.

With 8:47 left New Kensington led by one. The clock stopped a multitude of times in the final seconds following an array of fouls and time-outs. At the end of regulation, Penn State Wilkes-Barre had the edge 65-61.

The men played their opponents close the entire game. They had a field goal percentage of 42.6, 60.0% of free-throws, and a total of 30 rebounds and 10 assists. To give an idea of the quality of the game, the lead changed 12 times and tied 14.

New Kensington's stand-out players included Evan Clarke who rounded up 16 points, Joseph Dusabe with 10, and Shyheim Flanagan and Aubrey Feaster II (Buffalo, N.Y. / William B. Travis) with nine.

In the last few weeks, the men's basketball team has truly come into their own. Phrases such as "being on the same page" and "playing as a team" have been thrown around quite a bit. While most athletes find comfort in the team's win streak, the men are sticking to their original plan, to trust one another at all times.

The unsung hero of the men's team has been Sophomore Forward Jovan Kojic. Standing 6'8, he is an obvious choice for a rebound man, earning 3.7 per game. His free-throw percentage remains at 100.0% and his impact on the games is distinct, though he generally only plays one full half, averaging 19.7 minutes.

He also holds the respect of his teammates. "Let me shout out Jovan real quick," said an eager Shyheim Flanagan during Tuesday's practice. "To answer your question, I feel like keeping them down, him being here helps us a lot. When he's in the game, his touch is crazy, he can do anything, finish on either side of the basket. He's a really good player for our team. He's the one that really helps us hold people down. Of course, there is everybody else on the team. But him being 6'9 in there really helps us."

A noticeable advantage of the men's team is that each of their shifts has a special on-court awareness. For example, they are consistent in their wins due to the fact that all players are starters. This way, when a second shift is subbed in, there is no discernable difference in the pace or skill. This is a sign of a great team.

"I would put that credit to coach Mack," said Flanagan. "Because he makes sure everyone knows what they're doing. So the bench knows what they're doing if we know what we're doing, everyone is on the same page. You have to give credit to coach Mack for putting us in that position where we can succeed."

In the final six games of the season, the men have mastered their work ethic, game pace, and game strategy. The experience of the season allowed for the proper adjustments to be made just in time to win collectively.

'We've been in every situation already," said Aubrey Feaster II during Tuesday's practice. "We've been down, came back. We've been up, they've come back, beat us. We've lost by a lot, lost by a little. Won by a lot, won by a little. So nothing really phases us as much anymore. We are kind of prepared. We know when we're up, there's a chance they could come back. We weren't like that the last few games. This game we knew we were up, but we knew they had a chance. So now we're locked in more regardless of the score."

The men will play Penn State Fayette on the road on Tuesday, February 1, at 8:00 p.m.

Written by Matt Heavner, PSNK Athletics Communications Intern