SELINSGROVE — Brandon Hedley hadn’t yet found his shooting touch but his quick hands were still lethal.
Hedley swiped the ball away at mid-court and drained a jumper with a minute left in the first half to extend Susquehanna’s lead at halftime.
It may have seemed like a small blip in the box score at the time but Hedley’s active pursuit of the ball and jumper started Susquehanna on a stretch of 14 straight points to pull away from Kings (Pa.) on Saturday.
The Crusaders defeated the Monarchs, 67-45, in the Pepsi Tip-Off Tournament championship game at O.W. Houts Gymnasium.
"It’s a great win for us, especially since (King’s is) a very fundamental team. So we were able to work through their kinks and really pay attention to detail," Susquehanna guard Steven Weidlich said.
The Monarchs (3-1) found passing lanes around the rim in the first half, but Susquehanna (3-0) was able to deny quick passes into the paint in the second half and minimize the post presence of a physical team.
Hedley, who was named to the all-tournament team, led Susquehanna with 14 points. It was the hustle sparked by Hedley and Weidlich that worked its way through the rest of the Crusaders’ rotation and allowed Susquehanna to open a double-digit lead.
Weidlich, a sophomore, was named tournament MVP after scoring 11 points in both of Susquehanna’s games and leading the Crusaders with nine rebounds in the title game.
Susquehanna held the Monarchs to three made buckets in the second half, getting multiple players around the rim to prevent clean rebounds and put-back opportunities.
"The key was our defense," Susquehanna coach Frank Marcinek said. "When they’re only getting three field goals, we get some run-out opportunities."
Taking control of the glass at both ends of the floor, the Crusaders held King’s without a made shot for the first nine minutes of the second half. They limited the Monarchs to three points on a few made free throws during that stretch.
"Coach (Marcinek) has been stressing (to) win the last five minutes of the first half, first five minutes of the second half, and that was kind of our go-to last year," Weidlich said. "That’s something we’re trying to get back to."
With the Susquehanna defense clamping down to take the Monarchs’ low-post game away, the Crusaders were able to work the ball around the perimeter at the other end of the floor and get open looks.
Susquehanna made three of its first five 3-point attempts in the second half with Matt McGugan hitting a 3-pointer to open the half before Josh Miller and Hedley connected on back-to-back triples.
With a Weidlich jumper and a free throw from McGugan in between the run of 3-pointers, Susquehanna quickly turned a four-point halftime lead into a 16-point cushion within five minutes of play.
The Crusaders were up against a familiar post presence in Dan Rutecki, the younger brother of former Susquehanna forward Wally Rutecki. Susquehanna kept the younger brother largely off the glass in the second half after the sophomore grabbed six rebounds before halftime.
The Crusaders took an early lead after Weidlich and Miller connected on 3-pointers, but King’s answered by scoring 10 of the next 12 points for a 12-8 lead.
As might have been expected between two unbeaten teams playing for a championship, baskets were exchanged with Susquehanna unable to take a lead back for much of the first half.
McGugan drove for a layup while absorbing contact with 3:32 left in the half. McGugan swished his free throw to complete the 3-point play and give Susquehanna a 28-25 lead.