By Kevin Sweeney
While there is no such thing as a must-win game in early January, there was certainly a sense of urgency for Lehigh coming into tonight’s matchup with Bucknell.
A loss would have put the Mountain Hawks, the preseason favorites in the Patriot League, 3 games behind the Bison just 5 games into conference play.
Lehigh gave away an 18 point second half lead, but veteran Mountain Hawks never panicked, recovering nicely to steal an 82-71 road win over their conference rivals.
The first half was mostly dominated by Lehigh, but a late Bucknell run kept the Bison in it going into halftime. The Bison couldn’t get much going offensively other than through center Nana Foulland, who got whatever he wanted in the paint all night. Meanwhile, the Mountain Hawks, who had struggled from downtown recently, got hot from beyond the arc. They knocked down a ridiculous 6 of their first 7 threes to extend a first half lead hay grew as large as 14. However, the Bison finished the first half on a 10-2 run to cut the deficit to just 6, 40-34, at halftime.
An early second half run by the Mountain Hawks seemed to swing the game completely into the hands of Lehigh. They connected from downtown on three straight possessions, starting a push that gave Lehigh an 18 point lead less than 3 minutes into the half.
The Bison roared back, going on a 22-6 run over the next 6 minutes to cut the deficit to two. All the sudden, the Bison had all the momentum and Lehigh’s star big man Tim Kempton was forced to the bench with his fourth foul.
At that point, Lehigh fans had to be seeing flashbacks of last week’s game against Loyola, when they blew an 18 point lead and fell by 1 to the Greyhounds.
Tonight was a different story for the Mountain Hawks. This time, they finished strong to pull out a vital road victory.
“We can’t let big leads like that slip away, but when we are able to take a run and bounce back like that, it shows that we can be a championship team.” Austin Price said. Price had 16 points in the game for the Mountain Hawks.
After a pair of free throws by Kimball McKenzie tied the game for the Bison with 6:16 to play, Lehigh took control. They clamped down on defense, allowing just 5 points the rest of the way. On the other end, the Mountain Hawks regained their rhythm offensively, thanks in part to the return of Kempton to the floor.
Kempton’s 20 points and 8 rebounds led the way for Lehigh, who put 4 players in double figures. Freshman forward Pat Andree gave the Mountain Hawks a huge lift off the bench with 16 points and 8 rebounds. Lehigh returns to action with a home tilt with Holy Cross on Saturday, when they will look to get revenge from last year’s Patriot League Championship Game defeat.
Foulland had 20 points for the Bison, who fall to 12-6 (4-1) on the season. Stephen Brown added 12 points. The Bison will look to rebound on Saturday with a road tilt against Colgate.