By Pete Chiodo
A 28-point night by Allegheny College junior Josh Valentic and a stingy second-half zone has the Gators off to a 1-0 start to the 2013-14 season after defeating Alma College 77-67 during Friday night’s action at the Greg Richards Memorial Tip-off Classic at the David V. Wise Center.
“I’ve been waiting for Josh to have a night like that,” said Gators head coach Jim Driggs. “I recruited him hard out of high school, but he broke my heart and went to West Virginia Wesleyan. But then after a year there he came here. Last year he was hurt most of the year. But he’s a good player, and we knew he was capable.”
Valentic led the Gators in scoring in the first half with 11 points, but it took some trying. He was 4-for-10 from the floor and 1-for-5 from behind the 3-point line.
“(Valentic) really started to settle in the last six or seven minutes of the first half,” said Driggs.
Allegheny found itself trailing 37-32 with about a minute left in the opening period. But Valentic snapped an 0-for-4 run from downtown and knocked down his first trey to bring the Gators within a bucket. Then on Blue and Gold’s next possession, he drove the lane for a layup at the buzzer to knot the score at 37-37 at the break.
That little run ended up fueling a big second half.
“My teammates had confidence in me,” said Valentic. “They kept getting me the ball and they set some great screens at the top of the key.”
Valentic ended up shooting 5-of-6 from the floor in the second half, including 1-for-1 from the arc. He also cleaned up at the line, knocking down 6 of 8 attempts.
Valentic also pulled down a team-high seven rebounds in the second half, and ended up pacing the Gators on the glass with nine.
Allegheny ended up out-rebounding Alma 37-30 for the game. Clark Tritto and Marco Corona chipped in with seven apiece. That’s a positive sign for Driggs and company, who struggled on the boards a season ago.
“Well, I’m never happy unless we get all the rebounds,” said Driggs. “But I realize that it’s a game of bounces. We got some key rebounds down the stretch. And if we want to compete and win games, we have to rebound.”
Yet even with Valentic getting hot and the Gators putting forth a better effort on the glass in the second half, they still struggled to keep up with Alma in the early minutes of the final half.
The Scots (0-1) made eight of their first 12 shots from the floor in the second. And the Scots defense forced Allegheny into seven turnovers over the first eight minutes. By the halfway point, Alma led it 56-51.
Then Driggs made a crucial defensive adjustment when he put in the zone.
Alma couldn’t penetrate it and forced up some desperate long distance shots. The Scots went on to make just four more field goals the rest of the game. They were 12-for-36 in the half – a 33-percent average.
“We did a really good job with the zone from the 11-minute mark on,” said Driggs. “We couldn’t guard them man-to-man. (Alma) coach (Sam) Hargraves did a nice job of recognizing mismatches. … They just posted us up. We had trouble guarding them. So we went to the zone.”
Allegheny’s offense, feeding off the success of the “D”, got hot. The Gators were a fantastic 13-of-18 from the floor in the second half – a shooting average of 72.2 percent. They shot 60.5 percent for the game.
Valentic, of course, led the way. Inside the 8-minute mark, Valentic finished off a pair of three-point plays, then knocked down a 3-pointer, giving him nine points during a 10-point Allegheny run, which took the team from a 62-60 deficit to a 70-62 lead.
The Gators never looked back after that.
“We’re not going to have any problem scoring this season,” said Valentic. “If we defend the way we’re supposed to and rebound the way we’re supposed to, we’re going to win games.”
Tritto finished the night with 12 points for Allegheny. D’Andre Corbin and John O’Donnell followed with nine each. Corbin also had seven assists in the game. O’Donnell had a huge first half, going 3-for-3 from downtown.
“(Alma) is a good team from a good conference,” said Valentic. “We played hard and got the win.”