Lehigh men’s basketball fell to Lafayette 71-64 in the Patriot League playoff game in Stabler Area on March 2.
Lehigh entered the Patriot League tournament as the No. 3 seed after a 59-56 loss against Boston University to close out the season.
The Mountain Hawks swept the season series against the Leopards, going 2-0 and winning their last meet in a close 66-64 victory on Feb. 4 in Easton.
Lafayette’s junior forward Kyle Jenkins started the game recording the Leopards’ first four baskets, helping his team to an 11-2 lead before Lehigh used a timeout just over three minutes into the first half.
Though Lehigh tightened its paint defense, Lafayette went on to drain two more 3-pointers, extending their lead to 19-4, as Lehigh was forced to use another timeout.
“It seemed like (we) were a little more on their heels and not as confident, assertive or aggressive as perhaps they needed to be,” head coach Brett Reed said.
The Mountain Hawks attempted to claw their way back with just under 10 minutes left in the first half off the back of six consecutive points in the paint by junior center JT Tan. Despite their efforts, Lehigh trailed by as much as 25 points as the half wound down.
The half ended with Lafayette holding a commanding 41-18 lead.
“I just don’t think we were playing with the tenacity that it takes to win a playoff game (in the first half),” sophomore guard Tyler Whitney-Sidney said. “I think we owed it more to the people that came to support us.”
Lehigh shot a dismal 16.7% from the field in the first half, missing all six of their attempts from the 3-point range. On the other side, Lafayette converted on 53.6% of its shots from the field, making 5-12 from deep.
The second half opened with both teams trading scores and steals, but Lehigh barely chipped away at the deficit.
As the second half continued, Lehigh’s offense began to show signs of improvement, and defense forced more missed shots from the Leopards. Sophomore guard Keith Higgins and Whitney-Sidney recorded their first field goals, with Whitney-Sidney finishing through contact on an acrobatic layup to get the and-one.
As for what changed in between the first and second half, Whitney-Sideny put it bluntly: “we cared.”
“We were like, ‘This is not how we’re going to go out. We are not going to let our seniors go out like that,’” Whiney-Sidney said.
With just a hair under 13 minutes left in the second, the scoreline read 49-38 with Lehigh making six of their last seven attempts.
The noise at Stabler arena was deafening as junior guard Jalin Sinclair went up and under on a smooth layup.
“That was fantastic to see (the student section),” senior guard Evan Turner said. “I wish we could have given them a different outcome, but I still think that they were able to have a time with us.”
Lafayette did not fall too far behind, with sophomore forward Josh Rivera knocking down an uncontested jumper from the top of the key to extend the lead to 61-46 with 6:12 remaining.
With under three minutes, Lafayette’s possessions became longer in an attempt to wind the clock down, but Turner took matters into his own hands. The score sat at 65-58 after the second team All-Patriot league selection converted two 3-pointers and drove to the hoop to tack on two more on three consecutive possessions.
The game ended with a series of intentional fouls as Lafayette completed the victory and advanced to a home semifinal game.
“We weren’t able to get our feet underneath us soon enough to convert on offense or muster stops on defense,” Reed said. “Despite the fight and the push that we made, it was just a little too much to overcome.”