Final Statistics: Lehigh 64, Army 45
BETHLEHEM, Pa. – Eighth-seeded Army led top-seeded Lehigh 34-29 with 11:09 left in the second half, but the Mountain Hawks closed the game on a 35-11 run to take a 64-45 victory in the quarterfinals of the Patriot League Tournament at Stabler Arena. The Black Knights ended their season with a 14-15 overall mark, while the Mountain Hawks advance with a 20-10 mark.
Senior F Cleveland Richard led the Black Knights with nine points and five assists in his final game. It was the first time this season the Black Knights did not have a player reach double figures. Richard also made one steal to close his West Point tenure as the Black Knights’ all-time leader with 149. Senior G Marcus Nelson led the team with five rebounds.
Patriot League Rookie and Player of the Year CJ McCollum scored a game-high 19 points, 17 of which came in the second half, and grabbed a game-high 19 rebounds. Michael Ojo added 13 points off the bench while Zahir Carrington and Marquis Hall added 10 and 12, respectively.
Lehigh shot 63.2 percent in the second half, outscoring Army 46-25 after halftime. Despite the second-half outburst, Army held the league’s top-scoring offense to 11 points below its average and snapped the Mountain Hawks’ string of 10 straight games with at least 75 points.
Free throw shooting also played a key role in the second half. The Mountain Hawks did not attempt a free throw in the first 20 minutes, but were 19 for 25 from the strip after halftime. Army was 9 for 13 for the game and 8 for 11 in the second half.
Lehigh scored the first four points of the game, but the Black Knights went on a 9-4 run to take a 9-8 lead with 12:24 left, including four points by Thompson. Army led 11-8 before the Mountain Hawks scored the next four points to reclaim a 12-11 advantage with 5:56 remaining. The Black Knights answered with five consecutive points, holding Lehigh scoreless for two minutes, 51 seconds to take a 16-12 advantage with 4:15 left.
Back-to-back baskets by Carrington tied the game with 2:44 to go, but Army quickly regained the lead on a leaner by senior G Josh Miller with 1:27 left. Carrington scored again to tie the game for the third time, but after an offensive rebound by senior C Chris Walker, Army was able to hold for the last shot. Thompson drained a jumper as both the shot clock and game clock expired to send Army into the locker room with a 20-18 lead. It was Army’s best defensive performance before halftime since limiting American to 17 points in a win on Jan. 20.
Lehigh shot 47.4 percent in the first half, but turned the ball over eight times that led to six Army points. The Mountain Hawks did the majority of their damage in the paint with Carrington scoring a game-high eight points and Knutson adding six points from his center position. Thompson led the Black Knights with six points in the first 20 minutes. As a team, Army shot 40.9 percent in the opening stanza.
Lehigh tied the game at 22-22 with 17:11 to go, but the Black Knights scored 10 of the next 15 points to hold a 32-27 edge after a three-point play by senior F Eric Zastoupil with 12:44 left. Carrington came back with a dunk to cut the lead to three, but two free throws by sophomore G Julian Simmons gave Army a 34-29 edge with 11:09 left.
During the Mountain Hawks’ decisive run, the Black Knights went seven minutes and 15 seconds without a field goal. Ojo was a key down the stretch, scoring all 11 of his 12 points, including two three-pointers in the final 11 minutes.
Seniors Marcus Nelson, Josh Miller, Cleveland Richard, Jon Sizemore, Tyrell Thompson, Chris Walker and Eric Zastoupil ended their West Point careers with 54 victories, the most since the Class of 1979. The group earned four victories over Navy, including a Star Game victory this season, the program’s first since 2002.
Game Notes: Army used its third different starting lineup in as many games … Mitch McDonald, Cleveland Richard, Eric Zastoupil, Jeremy Hence and Tyrell Thompson got the call on Wednesday … Richard ended his career with 69 consecutive starts … Army ended the year 1-14 when allowing more than 60 points … Wednesday’s loss was Army’s first in the league quarterfinals since 2006 … the No. 8 seed has never won a Patriot League Tournament game … Marcus Nelson ended his career tied for the Army career record with 74 blocked shots … Army has lost 13 straight games when not scoring at least 50 points … the loss was just Army’s third of the season when leading at halftime (9-3).