Lehigh Fends Off Lafayette in PL Opener
EASTON, Pa. – For 25 minutes, the Lafayette men’s basketball team was in control in the first round of The Rivalry at Kirby Sports Center on Friday evening. However, Lehigh took the lead at the 14:35 mark of the second half and never looked back, closing out the Leopards by a 79-74 margin to open Patriot League play.
“I thought we competed and did a good job at the beginning of the game. We just seem to hit those lulls at times where we don’t score, and we did that again today,” head coach Fran O’Hanlon said. “We did a lot of good things and we’re getting better. At the end of the day, we just have to win some of these games and take care of our home court.”
Lehigh made its shots down the stretch when it mattered most, going the final 2:07 without a missed field goal, despite in-your-face defense on highly-contested jumpers. The win improves the visitors to 6-6 overall and 1-0 in conference action, while Lafayette falls to 2-10 and 0-1 in Patriot League play.
Senior co-captain Matt Klinewski put in an efficient night with a game-high 22 points on 9-of-14 from the field. The Voorhees, N.J. native added six rebounds, two assists and a steal to go along with his three blocks, a new career-high.
Freshman Justin Jaworski was the only other Leopard in double figures with 11 points, while classmate Alex Petrie and junior Paulius Zalys each added nine apiece. Sophomore Kyle Stout ripped down a season-high 10 boards and senior co-captain Eric Stafford handed out a career-high eight assists.
Lehigh was balanced across the board with all five starters finishing in double-figure scoring. Kahron Ross dropped 17 points, while James Karnik added 15 and Kyle Leufroy, Lance Tejada and Pat Andree tallied 14, 14 and 11, respectively. Andree grabbed 11 rebounds to cap the double-double and Ross finished with five helpers.
The Leopards went 28-for-62 from the field (45.2%), a decent percentage considering a 10-for-32 mark from beyond the arc (31.3%). Rebounds were fairly even with Lehigh holding a slight 42-37 edge, but the Mountain Hawks were able to rip down nine offensive boards, seven coming in the second half, to help pull away.
The game started with great pace as both teams had answers for one another offensively through the first four minutes. Klinewski knocked down a jumper and triple, but Tejada answered with a triple of his own to give Lehigh an early 11-10 lead.
Ross’s layup out of the break extended that advantage to three, but Lafayette responded as four straight from sophomore Lukas Jarrett moved the game under the 12-minute mark with the Leopards back in front, 17-16. Jordan Cohen’s jumper regained the lead for Lehigh at 10:35, but Stafford finished at the rim with a beautiful up-and-under move to swing it back in Lafayette’s favor by six, 27-21, with 8:25 to play in the half.
A 6-0 run from the Mountain Hawks on either side of the five-minute mark cut the Leopards’ edge to two at 34-32, but Klinewski and Jaworski answered with back-to-back triples to push the edge to eight, 40-32, with 2:28 left. A Myles Cherry layup was the final Lafayette bucket of the half with a minute left as Tejada’s three and Ross’s floater at the buzzer cut the lead to five at the break, 42-37.
Lafayette held its lead through the early parts of the second stanza, but an Andree three in transition from the left wing put the visitors up by a 49-47 score with 14:45 left. That lead continued as the Mountain Hawks took advantage of some minutes with Klinewski on the bench as back-to-back Karnik post buckets forced a timeout at the 8:22 mark with the score at 60-54 in favor of the visitors.
A Klinewski sequence with less than five minutes to play ignited the Lafayette crowd as he blocked Karnik on one end and drilled a three on the other to force a Lehigh timeout with the edge at just one, 66-65. But Andree answered on the following possession, taking the game under the four-minute mark with Lehigh up four.
Lafayette certainly pushed the visitors down the stretch as a Zalys finish through a foul at the 1:18 mark made the score 74-72. But Lehigh closed strong to see out the 79-74 final.
Lafayette will continue Patriot League action in 2018 on Tuesday, hosting Holy Cross at Kirby Sports Center with opening tip set for 7 p.m.