Syracuse’s dominant interior presence proved too much for Lehigh in the men’s basketball team opener. Syracuse won 90-72 at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York.
This was Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim’s 999th win of his career.
The Mountain Hawks kept the first half competitive, scoring the game’s first bucket and trailing by only two halfway through the first frame.
Senior captain Evan Taylor — who was named to the Patriot League All Preseason Team — drilled his first shot of the game, a pull-up three pointer from the left wing, and his second, a pull-up jumper from the free throw line, but was silent the rest of the half.
The patented Syracuse zone defense posed a challenge not just for Taylor, but the rest of the squad, as Lehigh struggled to penetrate gaps in the zone. Sophomore Tyler Whitney-Sidney, one of Lehigh’s more dynamic drivers, only played 12 first half minutes.
Syracuse senior Jesse Edwards, a 6’11” center, was everywhere in the first half, taking advantage of his three inch height advantage over Lehigh junior JT Tan, who started at center — the first start of his career.
On multiple occasions, Tan hedged too high on Syracuse pick-and-rolls, trying to trap the ball handler, which allowed Edwards to slip behind him for open looks at the rim.
“The problem was our pick and roll defense allowed the roll man to be open in the paint because we weren’t executing our responsibilities,” Reed said. “It gave us a scenario where here we are fighting with them and then all of a sudden, we fall behind in a major way.”
Edwards scored 14 points on 4-4 shooting, to go along with five rebounds, two steals and a block in the first half.
Three of Lehigh’s 10 first half fouls (to Syracuse’s five) sent Edwards to the free throw line, where he scored four of his first half points.
Syracuse outrebounded Lehigh 22-16 in the first half, and 39-26 in the game, an indictment of its overwhelming height advantage.
Lehigh scored first in the second half with two free throws from junior Dominic Parolin, cutting the Orange lead down to 44-28.
Lehigh couldn’t shake its foul troubles from the first frame, and Whitney-Sidney put Edwards on the line again for two more points on the very next possession.
Sophomore Keith Higgins Jr. finally connected from 3-point land — after missing four in the first half — when he drilled a deep one from the top of the key, cutting the Orange lead to 15. Lehigh had made only one of its previous 10 threes before this one.
“This environment in the Carrier Dome and the depth perception is notorious for knocking down some 3-point percentages,” Reed said.
Lehigh couldn’t string together solid possessions, though, and two possessions later, Parolin turned the ball over, leading to a transition layup for Syracuse standout freshman Judah Mintz.
Hoping to stop the bleeding, Lehigh coach Brett Reed called a timeout. On the first possession out of the break, the Mountain Hawk defense lost Joe Girard III on a downscreen, and the New York State all time high school points leader cashed a wide-open 3.
“Defensively I think is our biggest growth opportunity,” Reed said. “If we can do a better job from a consistency standpoint of our defensive focus and execution, then all of a sudden we take major steps forward.”
Taylor got rolling in the second half, finishing the game with an efficient 20 points, on 8-15 shooting, 4-5 from 3-point land.
One possession from Taylor stood out, in particular. After getting stuffed at the rim by Edwards, Lehigh corralled an offensive rebound and Whitney-Sidney found Taylor open on the left wing. Without hesitation, unfazed by his rejection, Taylor bottomed his second 3 of the night.
Last year, Taylor led the team in points, rebounds, blocks, steals and 3-pointers made. His composure in a game against an ACC powerhouse like Syracuse bodes well for the Mountain Hawks this season.
Two of Lehigh’s freshmen, forward Bube Momah and center Henri Adiassa, saw their first action tonight. Momah showed flashes, including his first collegiate bucket, which came on a nifty reverse layup, finishing through contact for the and-one.
I thought there were some positive signs for us offensively,” Reed said. “I thought at times the ball was shared very well. We had people who stepped up and made some clutch shots.”
The Syracuse game is the first of three Power Five games this season for Lehigh. The Mountain Hawks will square off against another ACC opponent, Virginia Tech, on Thursday, and Wisconsin on Dec. 15.
Patriot League competition begins Dec. 30 against Army.