In the immediate aftermath of Lehigh’s 65-62 win at Bucknell on Wednesday night, more than a few people believed that the Mountain Hawks would maintain control of the Patriot League race until the two preseason favorites meet again on February 18.
On Sunday afternoon, long-time rival Lafayette had other ideas.
Levi Giese led five Leopards in double figures with 17 points and Seth Hinrichs tallied a double-double (13 points, 11 rebounds) as Lafayette beat Lehigh 78-57 at Stabler Arena. Lafayette held a 30-22 lead at the half but played even better offensively in the second half, shooting 70% from the field (21-of-30) and and 6-of-12 from beyond the arc.
B.J. Bailey, Gabe Knutson and Mackey McKnight scored 12 points apiece to lead Lehigh offensively, but the Mountain Hawks didn’t come out with the same energy they displayed on Wednesday night at Sojka Pavilion. That opened the door for Fran O’Hanlon’s team and Lafayette was more than willing to take advantage.
“At times, we did not play with the poise and energy that we’d been exhibiting in previous games,” Lehigh head coach Brett Reed said to lehighsports.com. “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.”
Without the services of the injured C.J. McCollum bumps in the road were to be expected for Lehigh, but in the aftermath of their win at Bucknell few could have expected what happened on Sunday.
Lehigh didn’t shoot very well in either of their last two games, making just 33.9% of their shots from the field against Lafayette (35.6% against Bucknell). But with Lafayette shoot 55% from the field, hitting ten three pointers (Bucknell shot 2-of-14 from beyond the arc) and assisting on 25 of their 33 field goals, Lehigh found themselves in a hole too big to climb out of.
“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,” noted Reed.
As a result of Sunday’s loss the Mountain Hawks (4-1) drop into a tie for first with Bucknell and Lehigh is just a game behind both at 3-2.
Does Lafayette’s win mean that the Patriot League race will feature more than two teams? Tough to go that far, especially considering the fact that Lehigh and Bucknell are the lone teams with winning (overall) records. But there’s no doubt that Lafayette should feel more confident about their chances in light of Sunday’s victory.