Aces Ousted In Ot Lower Merion Fell To Hazleton, 64-59, In The State Playoffs.

Posted: March 16, 1995

BETHLEHEM, Pa. — Lower Merion and Hazleton were tied, 59-59, with Kobe Bryant handling the ball in the final seconds of regulation last night.

If Aces coach Gregg Downer had a farm to bet, he would have gone to the the nearest bookie.

"With Kobe handling the ball with 10 seconds to go, I liked my odds," Downer said.

But Hazleton defied the odds. The Cougars stripped Bryant and then, after Hazleton guard Ryan Leib missed a layup at the buzzer, held Lower Merion scoreless in overtime.

The Cougars won, 64-59, in overtime at Liberty High to advance to the Class AAAA state quarterfinals in boys' basketball. Lower Merion went home four wins short of a state title.

"We've had a great year," Downer said. "We accomplished all of the goals we set: winning the Central League, doing damage in districts, being representative in states."

The Aces (26-5) certainly were representative against District 2 champion Hazleton (27-2). Trailing by 49-42 going into the final period, Lower Merion rallied in front of the partisan Hazleton crowd.

Bryant scored 10 of his game-high 33 points in the fourth period to get the Aces back into the game. Finally, with 2 minutes, 9 seconds left in regulation, Guy Stewart hit a three-pointer to give Lower Merion a 59-58 lead.

The teams traded turnovers before Hazleton guard Terry Kringe (22 points) hit 1 of 2 free throws with 59 seconds left to tie the game.

Lower Merion held for the last shot, but Bryant was stripped and Leib (20 points) drove to the basket. Hazleton coach Bruce Leib's son missed, however, and the contest went into overtime.

"That took a little out of our sails," Bruce Leib said. "But we regrouped."

Kringe hit a basket and two free throws, and Ryan Leib made a foul shot in overtime. But Hazleton's defense was the difference, collapsing on Bryant every time he got the ball.

"Going in, we wanted to get the ball to the best player in the state of Pennsylvania," Downer said. "We wanted to see if they could stay with him."

Hazleton stuck close enough to force Bryant into a 10-for-26 night from the floor. And, when it counted most, the Cougars would not let the junior close to the basket with time winding down in regulation.

Still, Downer was happy with his team's season.

"I've been coaching 10 years," Downer said. "I've never been as proud of a group of athletes as the group that's in the locker room now."

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