On senior day at Stabler Arena, the Mountain Hawks came out on top with an impressive 69-60 victory over Bucknell, leading the entirety of the game.
Offensively, Lehigh was determined to establish their bigs early, running a high-low set throughout the first half that featured junior center James Karnik and sophomore center Nic Lynch.
Karnik, who has been injured for a large portion of the season, played an impactful role for the Mountain Hawks, notching 17 points and six rebounds, but he also cleared space for fellow big Nic Lynch to score his own 17 points.
In the first five minutes of the game, Lynch racked up seven points, with Karnik grabbing four points of his own off a singular high-low set. Senior center Ed Porter made an immediate impact on the game upon his introduction, scoring on the same offensive set.
Bucknell started the game running the pick and roll, but Lehigh’s rotations stifled them throughout the contest.
After the Bison found themselves down 14-2, they called timeout and decided to switch their offensive approach.
Sophomore guard Walter Ellis provided an offensive outlet for Bucknell after the timeout to help cut Lehigh’s lead to 16-12.
The Mountain Hawks continued to torch the paint throughout the first half, out-rebounding Bucknell 20-11 and outscoring them in the paint 24-8 in the first half.
Head coach Brett Reed said it was a big boost to have both of his centers in the starting lineup for today’s game.
“We wanted to be able to capitalize because they are two really effective scorers,” Reed said. “Putting them in the right position where they can play a power game really plays to our strengths. Fortunately, our guys were unselfish enough and patient enough to put the ball where it needed to go so those guys could be featured. It was our offensive advantage and strategy, so we wanted to make sure to capitalize.”
After Bucknell’s quick run, Lehigh steadily grew their lead throughout the rest of the first half, which ended 36-27.
Lehigh continued their eight-man rotation in the second half, playing only Porter and freshman guards Reed Fenton and Evan Taylor off the bench.
The Lehigh guards consistently found lanes to the basket in the second half, first senior Jordan Cohen got all the way to the rim and found Karnik for two, and then junior Marques Wilson got the ball in the paint and found Lynch for an and-1 layup.
Lynch exhibited his strength and hustle against the Bison after the intermission after consistently muscling his way to the free throw line and diving on the ground for loose balls.
Lynch credited his great game to Karnik.
“If we are both in the game they can’t really double or triple down low,” Lynch said. “If we are good enough passers we can find each other like he did a couple times. Frankly, it just takes the pressure off both of us. At that point, we just keep pounding inside.”
With under 12 minutes to play, Lehigh maintained a 10-point lead, 47-37.
Cohen then went on a 7-2 run all by himself, hitting two straight threes to extend Lehigh’s lead to 54-39 with just over 10 minutes left to play.
Lehigh’s ability to get to the rim and play inside-out forced Bucknell to pick up a lot of extra fouls in the second half. Lehigh entered the bonus with over six minutes remaining and ended up shooting 23 free-throws compared to Bucknell’s nine.
The Bison’s three-point shooting kept them in the game as Lehigh had trouble extending their lead past 10.
The Mountain Hawks slowed the game down though as the second half winded down, clinging onto a solid double-digit advantage.
Bucknell cut the lead to seven with four minutes left, but after Jimmy Sotos air-balled a long range three-point shot, the Mountain Hawks went back to the high-low game, finding Karnik for two crucial points.
On a day that honored the seniors, Lehigh relied on senior Cohen down the stretch to control the game.
Cohen drove all the way to the rim to score Lehigh’s final field goal and grabbed a big rebound all in the final minutes of action to close out an impressive victory.
With 3.3 second left, Reed called timeout to insert all four Lehigh seniors onto the court.
Lehigh ended the night out-rebounding Bucknell 42-29, while outscoring them in the paint 38-24.
Bucknell shot 32 threes in the game, compared to Lehigh’s 12, making seven of those 32 attempts.
The Mountain Hawks play next on Wednesday, Feb. 26, hosting Boston University.