In front of a packed student section at Stabler Arena on Thursday, the Lehigh men’s basketball team defeated Army 91-77, advancing to the Patriot League semifinals.
Lehigh started freshmen Keith Higgins Jr. and Tyler Whitney-Sidney at the guard positions, junior Evan Taylor and senior Jeameril Wilson at forward and senior Nic Lynch at center.
Led by Wilson and Taylor, Lehigh got off to a hot start in the first half.
Playing in his sixth Patriot League playoff game, Wilson was unfazed by the booming Lehigh student section, and contributed 10 early points to the Mountain Hawks’ early 12-6 start.
On Lehigh’s first offensive possession, Wilson caught the ball in the short corner and rose up over his defender for an easy two-point bucket.
Wilson then hit the first 3 of the game with 16:19 left, following it up with an and-one layup, euro-stepping around Army’s Charlie Peterson, absorbing the contact and completing the three-point play at the line.
Lynch played solid defense on Army’s big-men in the first half, holding Peterson to five points.
Lehigh’s guards did well on Second Team All-Patriot League guard Jalen Rucker, holding him to a quiet eight first half-points.
Lehigh held the scoring advantage for the entire first half until Army’s Aaron Duhart was fouled on a drive to the basket. His free-throws put Army up 17-16 with 9:41 remaining in the half.
On Army’s next offensive possession, Chris Mann hit a 3 from the left wing, putting Army up four.
After starting off hot, Lehigh entered a scoring drought from the 13:18 mark until more than five minutes later, ending the stretch with an Evan Taylor reverse layup. Taylor followed his layup with a pull-up from the free throw line, cutting the Army lead to 22-20.
Army then began to pull away with an and-one layup from Peterson at the 6:25 mark, putting the Black Knights up 27-20. Army was in a rhythm now, getting into its sets and putting pressure on Lehigh with its full-court press.
Coach Brett Reed said he knew that Army would be pressuring his team full-court.
“We wanted to be able to preserve a little bit of our energy, so we couldn’t simulate it quite the same way,” Reed said. “Really it’s about ball security and making solid decisions.”
With Lehigh’s early lead slipping away, an inbounds play from under the basket left Taylor wide open on the left-wing, where he hit a 3, his seventh point of the night. On the next possession, Taylor hit again from 3, this time from the right-wing.
Sophomore Dominic Parolin forced a steal on the next Army possession, sending Higgins Jr. and Whitney-Sidney out in open space. The All-Freshman duo connected, with Higgins Jr. finding Whitney-Sidney for a contested double-clutch layup, which regained the Lehigh lead, 28-27.
With the crowd back in the game, Wilson hit his second three of the half from the right-wing to put Lehigh up four with 4:17 left in the half.
With two minutes left, Whitney-Sidney handled the ball on the left wing, attacking with his left-hand. He stopped on a dime, put the ball behind his back, absorbed contact and finished the and-one layup with his right hand. This was one in a string of many athletic finishes at the rim for the bouncy freshman.
The sequence as the time wound down in the half was representative of Wilson’s spectacular first frame.
Wilson found himself with the ball in the left corner after a broken possession with eight seconds on the game clock, three on the shot clock. He picked his dribble up at an inopportune moment as an Army defender blanketed him.
Players and coaches on the Lehigh bench screamed out the countdown: “Three, two..”
Shooting on the basket in front of the Lehigh student section, Wilson couldn’t hear his teammates. It didn’t matter.
With a second left on the shot clock, Wilson faked a pass, creating just enough space for himself and released. His fourth made 3 of the half sent the Mountain Hawks into the locker room with a 42-33 lead.
Wasting no time to start the second half, Lynch established position in the post and bullied his way into the first points of the half.
At the 17:21 minute mark, Wilson rose up for a mid-range jumper, returning the Lehigh lead to 10. This shot set a new career high for Wilson with only three minutes wasted in the second frame.
With 15:41 remaining, Evan Taylor crossed over under his defender’s outstretched arms and stepped back into a 3 from the right-wing. The ball hit the right half of the rim and then nearly the top of the backboard before falling through the net, putting Lehigh up 12.
Taylor’s shooter’s touch from his 10-11, 91% shooting performance against Lafayette carried over to the playoffs.
A three from Dominic Parolin with 14:55 remaining was Lehigh’s seventh make on as many shots, putting them up 60-45.
Lehigh didn’t miss a shot in the second half until a Marques Wilson 3-pointer barely rimmed out with 13:29 remaining.
With 11:45 left, freshman Ben Knotsman hit a 3, giving Lehigh a 65-49 lead. Knotsman was the sixth Mountain Hawk to connect from deep.
Lehigh went 14-31 from three on the night, good for 45%. Seven players hit 3s in the contest.
“The three point-line is a big weapon in college basketball,” Reed said. “We were able to use it effectively tonight and it came from a lot of different players. It says a little bit about our guys’ confidence that even in the postseason, they’re willing to step up and step into a shot with confidence.”
Towards the end, Army scored eight straight, cutting the Lehigh lead to 12. Lehigh answered with a fastbreak layup from Taylor, who adjusted his body in midair to avoid a chasedown block.
As time wound down, Army played the foul game and Marques Wilson iced the game out with six made free throws and Taylor added two of his own.
Now, a rematch with Colgate, which Lehigh beat for the first time since 2018 this season, looms.
“Colgate is a team that has completely bought into their system,” Jeameril Wilson said. “They play so smart… They know how to play basketball. It’s going to take a group effort on defense. We’re going to have to be more disciplined than ever.”
Junior guard Jake Betlow said that execution is going to be the x-factor in the game.
In Lehigh’s victory over Colgate this season, four Mountain Hawks contributed double digit scoring. The Mountain Hawks opened the game on a 22-7 run, ultimately winning 85-81.
“We’re looking forward to an awesome playoff atmosphere and a gritty game… It’s all about fulfilling your role as a player and a teammate and leaving it all on the line,” Betlow said. “We are excited and ready.”