Lehigh beat Navy 78-73 on the road on Sunday afternoon. Senior Evan Taylor matched his career high with 26 points, his eighth straight game with 10 or more.
The Mountain Hawks (7-8, 2-2 PL) saw valuable bench contributions from juniors JT Tan, who scored a career-high 10 points, and Jalin Sinclair, who dished out five assists and led the plus-minus column with a +13.
Freshman center Henri Adiassa went down with what seemed to be a hand injury early in the first half, which could have been problematic given the team’s lack of depth at the position. Tan, one of Lehigh’s only other bigs, scored six straight points in just over two minutes off the bench.
When Adiassa was able to return, he played stout defense, staying grounded on pump fakes and altering Navy’s shots at the rim.
Lehigh led by 10 with seven minutes left in the first period, distributing its scoring across the board, controlling the pace and getting out in transition. The Mountain Hawk lead dissipated quickly as the Midshipmen went on a 10-0 run, tying the score at 32. During this stretch, Lehigh didn’t score for over four minutes and turned the ball over on three consecutive possessions.
Sophomore Keith Higgins Jr. ended the Navy run with his first-made shot of the game, a 3-pointer from the top of the key, putting Lehigh up three points with 50 seconds to go.
Despite leading for over 12 minutes of the first half, the Mountain Hawks trailed by one at the break.
Taylor started the second half with a face-up jumper from his preferred left side, shooting over the outstretched arms of Navy senior Sean Yoder.
After that first score, which put Lehigh up by one, the teams switched control of the lead eight times before the final buzzer.
With just over seven minutes to go, sophomore Ben Knostman got his entry pass picked off, leading to a Navy fastbreak layup and a quick timeout from Lehigh coach Brett Reed. Navy had taken a seven-point lead, its largest of the game.
After this timeout, Reed said his team was able to recover and not get dejected after a big Navy run.
“One of the biggest factors is one that is something you don’t see on the stat sheet,” Reed said. “It was our resolve and our toughness in being able to recover from a damaging run that Navy made deep in the second half.”
Reed subbed in Adiassa for Tan during the timeout, opting for the length and shot blocking potential of the freshman over the more experienced Tan. Just over a minute after checking in, Adiassa stayed down on a set of Daniel Deaver pump fakes before erasing his shot attempt, keeping the Navy lead at five.
Adiassa blocked another shot with the score tied and 1:18 remaining as he dropped into the paint out of a pick-and-roll and rose up just outside the restricted area to wipe away another potential Navy bucket.
After the Adiassa block, the Mountain Hawks failed to get anything going on offense, and Reed took another timeout to draw up a sideline out-of-bounds play.
Sophomore Tyler Whitney-Sidney took the ball out, passing to Taylor, who was freed up off a Dominic Parolin down screen. With Deaver switched onto him, Taylor attacked going left, rising up and dropping in a lefty jumper, which bounced around on the rim before falling through.
Reed said this was an important possession and one on which Lehigh needed to score.
“I thought Navy did an excellent job defending him, but he used his size,” Reed said. “ He elevated. He got to the spots on the floor that he needed to and certainly shot the ball with a great deal of confidence.
The 75-73 Mountain Hawks lead was their first in more than eight minutes, and they would not give it up for the rest of the game.
Lehigh ended the game on a 9-0 run, a product of eliminating turnovers and getting paint touches down the stretch.
Now 2-2 in Patriot League play, the Mountain Hawks will take on Holy Cross at home on Wednesday.