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Crowd banned because of coronavirus fears, but Penn State Harrisburg pulls off big hoops upset

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Special to the Press & Journal

BALTIMORE
Many people counted Penn State Harrisburg out of the NCAA Division III men’s basketball tournament before it even started Friday.

An undersized team out of a lower-ranked conference, the Lions were making their first ever appearance in “The Dance” with a roster full of sophomores and freshmen. They were going into Johns Hopkins’ gym to face the sixth-ranked Blue Jays, national title contenders who were fresh off a win over previously unbeaten and No. 1-ranked Swarthmore in the Centennial Conference championship.

Add to the game an unprecedented twist: The game was played in a near empty gym, with no fans allowed, because of concerns about spreading the coronavirus.

But PSU-Harrisburg was there for more than spending a night at a hotel at the Inner Harbor, eating some crab cakes, and enjoying a reward for a history-making season that saw the Lions win their first men’s basketball conference championship.

Nobody expected the Lions to pull off a 104-96 double-overtime stunner to advance to the second round, where they will meet Yeshiva tonight — nobody, except the Lions and their sixth-year head coach Don Friday.

“I’m allergic to shellfish,” Friday said, when asked about those crab cakes. He will, however, take all the Donyae Baylor-Carroll he can get.

Baylor-Carroll, a 5-7 sophomore guard out of Milton Hershey High School, was the smallest guy on the court, but nobody came up bigger.

The North East Athletic Conference Player of the Year put his team on his back and carried them past Hopkins, pouring in a school-record 45 points, including almost every big bucket of the game.

When Hopkins used a 15-0 run late in the second half to overcome Penn State’s lead and push out to an 8-point lead with just 3:44 to play in regulation, Baylor-Carroll looked over at Friday and told his coach to give him the ball. Friday had seen that look before, most recently when Baylor-Carroll almost single-handedly rallied the Lions from 5 points down with 1:33 to play in their overtime win over Lancaster Bible in the NEAC title game.

Baylor-Carroll scored the last 9 points of regulation to spark PSU’s 11-3 end run that sent the game to overtime. In the first extra period, Baylor-Carroll scored 8 of the Lions 10 points and assisted on the other bucket. His 3-pointer with 5 seconds left in the first OT gave Penn State an 83-80 lead, but Hopkins’ Carson James tied it with a three at the buzzer.

In the second overtime, it was more of the same, with Baylor-Carroll scoring 10 of the Lions’ first 14 points (with an assist on the other basket) as Penn State built the 8-point margin it would win by.

“When this guy looks at me and says give me the ball, it makes me a pretty smart coach,” said Friday, seated next to Baylor-Carroll in the postgame press conference.

Baylor-Carroll was 12-for-27 from the field, including 9 three-pointers. he also knocked down 12 of 13 at the free throw line, including twice making all three after drawing a foul while shooting from beyond the arc.

“(Baylor-Carroll) is a terrific player, and he had a terrific performance. He certainly was in the zone,” Hopkins coach Josh Loeffler said. “We tried several different things against him, but sometimes good offense beats good defense.”

Penn State shot 53.8 percent from the field (35-65) and went 15-32 (46.9 percent) from 3-point range as a team. The Lions had 25 assists on their 35 buckets, including 10 from Zegary Scott III, who entered the game ranked sixth in Division III in assists.

Nate Curry (19 points), Pedro Rodriguez (17) and Dylan Daniels (14) also scored in double figures for Penn State. Daniels, the nation’s leading shot-blocker, rejected three shots and added 12 rebounds for a double-double.

Only players, referees, employees and media members were present in the 1,100-seat Goldfarb Gymnasium, so the official attendance was 0, according to The Associated Press.

The game prior to Penn State’s, when Yeshiva University of New York City beat Worcester Polytechnic Institute out of Massachusetts, 102-78, was believed to be the first U.S. sports event held without fans because of the new coronavirus, the AP reported.

“In light of Maryland's recently confirmed cases of COVID-19, and based on CDC guidance for large gatherings, we have determined that it is prudent to hold this tournament without spectators,” Johns Hopkins said in a press release.

Penn State Harrisburg and Yeshiva will tip off at 8:45 p.m., with the same crowd restrictions in place. The winner will advance to next weekend’s Sweet 16.