Junior guard Keith Higgins sets up for a free throw shot at the men's basketball game on Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024, at Stabler Arena. Lehigh beat Lafayette in double overtime 94-90. (Amanda Rowan/B&W Staff)

Men’s basketball looks to meet expectations amid return of injured players


A season-high record of 1,962 fans packed Stabler Arena in preparation for the first time Lehigh basketball faced Lafayette since their collapse in the first round of the 2022-2023 Patriot League playoffs.

But with Lehigh’s team ranking second in the Patriot League preseason poll and junior guards Keith Higgins and Tyler Whitney-Sidney being placed on the Preseason All-Patriot League Team, this team was expected to be different.

Lehigh started off the season 0-8 against Division I opponents, but with teams like Penn State, Providence, Boston College and No. 19 North Carolina accounting for four of the eight losses, their fate in the Patriot League was still unknown.

Lehigh’s first Patriot League win came at the hands of Loyola Md. in an 88-76 contest that saw senior guard Jalin Sinclair drop a career-high 30 points but also saw Higgins leave in the third minute with a strained Achilles. 

Only two weeks later, the team lost Sinclair to a foot injury just before their game against American University. 

Lehigh had just lost three Patriot League games in a row and now would be without two of their starting players. Still, the Mountain Hawks would go on to win three of their next four games with key performances from their underclassmen and help from the team’s veterans. 

Lehigh men’s basketball junior guard Keith Higgins [13] goes in for a layup during the game against Lafayette on Feb. 10, 2024, at Stabler Arena. The team will play Loyola University at home on Feb. 17, 2024. (Holly Fasching/B&W Staff)

Lehigh’s first game without Higgins and Sinclair saw sophomore Bube Momah’s 14-point performance combine with Whitney-Sidney’s 27 points to elevate Lehigh over American. 

The Mountain Hawks followed that game with a three-point loss to first place Colgate before first-year guards Joshua Ingram and Cam Gillus combined for 22 points in their win against Holy Cross. Whitney-Sidney finished with 19 points and senior forward Burke Chebuhar put up a game-high of 20 points.

Lehigh’s next game against Navy saw Gillus and Ingram score a combined 26 points, with senior forward Dominic Parolin dropping 20 points of his own.

Lehigh would drop the next two games against Boston University and Army to leave them at 4-7 in the Patriot League, with four of those seven losses being decided by three points or less. 

Heading into the 244th rendition of the rivalry game, both Higgins and Sinclair were cleared to play. Lehigh would have all its weapons available for its rematch against the Leopards. 

Still, Higgins and the rest of the Lehigh captains told the team that this matchup was “just another game.”

Lafayette shot out to a 10-point lead before the Mountain Hawks recorded a basket.  After another 10-0 run from the Leopards, their lead was stretched to 17 with just over 11 minutes of play left. Lehigh’s playoff loss last year came in part due to a first half where they scored only 18 points to the Leopards’ 41. With seven minutes left in the first frame, Lafayette led Lehigh 35-15, and the loudest voice in Stabler Arena was Lehigh coach Brett Reed’s. 

He squatted down into an athletic position, reached both of his arms out and said, “You have to lock in.” 

Gillus said he and the team let Lafayette get too comfortable in the beginning first half, but once Lehigh started to play a more aggressive style of defense, they started to limit the damage. 

Lehigh would go on to score another 12 in the remaining seven minutes of the first half to bring the score to 41-27. Higgins, Whitney-Sydney and Sinclar were a combined 0-3 from the field at halftime. 

Coming out of the half, Lehigh went on a 14-6 scoring run to bring the score within six, reinvigorating the Lehigh crowd. 

Lafayette led for the rest of the second half, though Lehigh slowly chipped away at their deficit. With just over a minute left in the game, a steal from Ingram led to a jump shot from Higgins to make the score 64-62.

With two seconds left in regulation, Chebuhar sank a jump shot to tie the score for the first time all game.

There were no lead changes in all of regulation. There would be seven before the game was decided. 

Parolin sank two free throws to give Lehigh their first lead of the night and then buried a three during Lehigh’s next possession to go up 71-69. He would end up playing almost 45 minutes in total. 

The Mountain Hawks led for the rest of the first overtime, but a layup by Lafayette forward Kyle Jenkins tied the score at 75 and sent the game into a second overtime. 

With just 58 seconds remaining in double overtime, Lafayette guard Eric Sondberg cut to the corner and buried a three to once again tie the game 86-86.

Lehigh men’s basketball guard Cam Gillus makes a pass while being guarded by Lafayette forward Kyle Jenkins in a rivalry game Saturday, Feb. 10, at Stabler Arena. Lehigh won 94-90. (Luke Kaiser/B&W Staff)

But a stepback 3-pointer from Higgins and five made free throws from Chebuhar sealed the win for Lehigh 94-90. Higgins finished with 15 points after going scoreless in the first half. 

“[Higgins’] leadership has grown all throughout the year and he’s stepping forward to be someone that our team looks to,” said Reed about what it means to have Higgins back on the court.

Lehigh made a living at the free-throw line, making 28 on 33 attempts with Chebuhar scoring 16 of his 28 total points from foul shots. 

Meanwhile, Parolin scored a career-high 33 points going 5-9 from three-point range, a huge improvement from his 5-15 performance from the field in his last game against Lafayette. 

Reed commended Chebuhar and Parolin for playing physically and putting the Leopards’ forwards in foul trouble, but said that the team as a whole was able to limit mistakes and stay disciplined through the entire game. 

 “This is what college basketball is all about,” Reed said. “The toughness, the grit, the determination, the fight… and then they’ve got a memory that they can hang onto for the rest of their lives.”

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