BETHLEHEM, Pa. - The Lehigh men’s basketball team couldn’t overcome an early deficit, as Lafayette’s hot-shooting sparked the Leopards (10-12, 3-2 Patriot League) to a 78-57 win over the Mountain Hawks (14-5, 4-1) in front of a season-high 3,279 fans at Stabler Arena Sunday. Senior Gabe Knutson and juniors Mackey McKnight and B.J. Bailey led the way with 12 points apiece as Lehigh’s 12-game Patriot League winning streak (dating back to last season) was snapped.
“At times, we did not play with the poise and energy that we’d been exhibiting in previous games,” said Lehigh head coach Brett Reed. “Our lack of execution on offense, and inability to finish plays and put the ball in the basket, was the story in the first half. In the second half, our defense deteriorated and today, we were not able to conquer the mental and emotional aspects of the game of basketball.”
The Mountain Hawks shot just 25 percent in the first half (8-of-32) to fall into an eight-point halftime deficit. Then in the second, Lafayette knocked down 21-of-30 from the field (70 percent) to win going away.
Bailey’s 12 points came on 5-of-10 shooting. McKnight added six assists, with no turnovers, while senior Holden Greiner scored all nine of his points in the second half.
Five Leopards finished with double-figure points, paced by Levi Giese who had 17 on 6-of-12 shooting, including 5-of-10 from three-point range. Seth Hinrichs had a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds.
“Lafayette played an excellent brand of basketball, made the plays they needed to make and are a very dangerous team, particularly when they make shots,” said Reed.
Both sides got off to a slow start offensively, with Lehigh leading 4-2 at the first media timeout. A Bailey three gave the Mountain Hawks the advantage with 16:36 left in the first half, Bailey’s fifth straight make from long distance.
Giese knocked down a trey to give Lafayette a 9-6 advantage, but the Mountain Hawks answered with five of the next seven, including a McKnight layup, to tie the score at 11 with 11:52 remaining.
Knutson finished a driving layup to pull Lehigh within 14-13 with 10:39 on the clock, but Lafayette answered with a 10-0 run over the next 4:25 before freshman Justin Goldsborough ended it with an offensive rebound and put back to make it 24-15 with 6:14 remaining.
Knutson scored Lehigh’s final three first-half points, via a layup and free throw, to pull the Mountain Hawks within 30-22 after 20 minutes of play.
Lehigh knocked down 25 percent from the field (8-of-32) in the first half and 29 percent from long range (2-of-9). Lafayette shot 40 percent (12-of-30) and 29 percent from long distance (4-of-14). The Mountain Hawks held a 26-20 edge on the glass.
Knutson hit a jumper in the first minute of the second, but Lafayette promptly answered with six straight points to take a 36-24 lead. The lead grew to 14 (43-29), but the Mountain Hawks responded with five straight behind a Bailey driving layup and Greiner three to pull Lehigh back within nine (43-34) with 14:48 to go.
Hinrichs hit a three to give Lafayette a 52-37 lead, forcing Reed to call timeout with 10:18 to play.
The Leopards caught fire from three, as treys from Joey Ptasinski and Giese gave Lafayette an 18-point lead. Another Giese trey made it 65-43, forcing Reed to call another timeout.
The lead reached 25 (73-48) following a Giese fastbreak layup with 4:03 remaining. The Mountain Hawks tried to fight back, staging a 7-0 run to pull within 18, but it was too little too late.
“The formula for success has been our defensive intensity, our determination, our focus and our togetherness and we saw that erode in multiple ways today,” said Reed. “The end result was we walked away very disappointed in our overall performance.”
The Mountain Hawks travel to Navy on Wednesday to face the Midshipmen at 7 p.m. before closing out the first round of Patriot League play next Sunday (Feb. 3) at Army.
Lehigh finished at 34 percent from the field (21-of-62) and 36 percent from three-point range (8-of-22). Lafayette shot 55 percent (33-of-60) and 39 percent from long distance (10-of-26).