Army 53, Lehigh 50
WEST POINT, N.Y. Fourth-seeded Army (11-18) held off fifth-seeded Lehigh (15-14), 53-50, in the quarterfinal round of the 2009 Patriot League Tournament at Christl Arena on Wednesday night. The Black Knights led by as many as 12 in the second half, but the Mountain Hawks clawed back within one point before Army was able to seal the victory.
Army has ended Lehigh’s season in the Patriot League quarterfinals in each of the last three seasons. It marks the first time the Black Knights have advanced in the conference tournament three consecutive seasons.
Junior F Cleveland Richard led all scorers with 15 points. He also tied his career-high with four steals. Junior G Marcus Nelson tallied a season-best 13 points. The Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year shut down Lehigh first-team All-Patriot League guard Marquis Hall. Hall scored 10 points, seven of which came from the free throw line. He was just 1 for 13 from the floor, including 1 for 9 from three-point range. Hall entered the game averaging 14.1 points per contest. Doug Williams did not score, but pulled down a team-high six rebounds.
"I thought we really played hard for 40 minutes," Army head coach Jim Crews said. "We were very effectively defensively. Carrington and Hall are tremendous players and tremendous athletes. Marcus (Nelson) and Rickey (Royal) did a really nice job on Hall. He is a tremendous player."
Lehigh had two players record double-doubles. Zahir Carrington scored a team-high 14 points and led all players with 13 rebounds. John Adams netted 12 points and 11 boards.
Army was outrebounded 45-29, but the Black Knights’ defense limited the Mountain Hawks to 28.6 percent (16-56) from the floor. It was Army’s best field goal percentage defensive effort of the season. Lehigh was only 1 of 17 from three-point range. The Black Knights hit 41.7 percent (20-48) of its field goal attempts, including a 6 for 18 showing from long range. Army has outshot its opponent in each of its 11 victories this season.
Lehigh was able to stay in the game at the foul line. The Mountain Hawks were 17 of 26 from the line, while Army hit just 7 of 11 opportunities.
"We knew it was going to be a tough game," Crews said. "Lehigh is a tough team, a competitive team. It didn't surprise me that this was a one possession game."
Lehigh jumped out to a 6-2 lead, but back-to-back triples by junior G Josh Miller and sophomore G Nathan Hedgecock gave the Black Knights an 8-6 advantage. Carrington put the Mountain Hawks back on top with an old-fashioned three-point play and hit one of two free throws on a later possession to put them out in front 10-8 with 11:57 to go.
Nelson threw down an alley-oop dunk from Richard to tie the game, and freshman G Julian Simmons scored four straight to put the Black Knights back in front 14-10 with 9:52 left in the half. Lehigh tied the score at 15-15, but senior F Kenny Brewer put the Black Knights back in the lead on their next possession. Brewer’s bucket started a 10-2 run that extended Army’s lead to 25-17 with 1:49 to go. The Black Knights did not trail for the remainder of the contest. A three-pointer by Richard capped the Black Knights’ scoring spurt. The Mountain Hawks scored the final bucket of the half to trim Army’s halftime lead to 25-19.
Army started 3 for 10 from the floor, but hit seven of its last 16 shots to finish the opening stanza at 38.5 percent. Lehigh was 6 for 27 (.222) and 0 for 8 from three-point range in the first half.
Army led 27-19 early in the second half before a quick 4-0 run by Lehigh got the Mountain Hawks within four at 27-23. Richard pulled the momentum back towards the Black Knights with a jumper, a steal and a fastbreak feed to Simmons for a three-pointer to give Army a 32-23 with 15:47 to go. Richard’s sequence was part of a 9-1 Army run that gave the Black Knights their largest lead at 36-24 with 13:40 to go.
Carrington hit a jumper to end a two-minute, 50-second stretch without a Lehigh field goal. Nelson answered, but Carrington’s three-point play with 12:44 left pulled the Mountain Hawks back within nine points. Brewer’s dunk off a feed from Richard re-established an 11-point Army advantage, but a pair of free throws by Hall started the Lehigh comeback.
Halls’ first points of the game with 11:06 left started an 8-1 Lehigh run that trimmed the deficit to only four points with 8:09 left. Army sophomore G Rickey Royal scored three points the hard way with 7:41 to go to put Army back ahead by seven points, 44-37, with 7:41 remaining.
Lehigh scored the next six points to make it a one-point game with 2:34 to go. Adams had a chance to tie the score at 4-4, but missed the free throw on a potential three-point play.
A layup by Nelson with 2:10 left made it a three-point game and ended Army’s five-minute, 31-second scoring drought. Hall knocked down two free throws to make the score 46-45 with 1:56 to go. Richard hit his biggest shot of the night, a three-pointer from the corner, to give Army a two-possession lead with 1:34 left.
Carrington fouled while making a hoop, but missed the free throw to keep the Army lead at 49-47 with 1:11 to go. The Black Knights forced a turnover on Lehigh’s next possession and Nelson finished with a slam to make it 51-47 with just 31 seconds remaining.
Hall finally got a three-pointer to go, hitting a tough shot from the wing to bring the Mountain Hawks back within one point with 25.6 seconds left Lehigh missed its first 13 three-pointers, while Hall was 0-10 from the floor and 0-6 from three-point range before his lone make.
Miller hit both free throws after getting fouled without any time coming off the clock to make it 53-50. Lehigh had two chances to tie, but Hall missed a three-pointer, and Rob Keefer’s three-pointer off the offensive rebound hit the front rim as time expired.
"Marcus did a great job on that last play," Crews said. "He really denied him (Hall) the ball tough for most of that possession."
All three Patriot League quarterfinal games between Army and Lehigh have been decided by three points or less. Army’s 53 points marked its lowest point total in any of its 11 wins this season.
For the second straight season, Army will travel to top-seeded American for the tournament semifinals. The Black Knights and Eagles will tip off at noon on Sunday at Bender Arena. The game will be broadcast live by Comcast SportsNet in the Mid-Atlantic region. Fans should check their local listings for availability.
Game Notes: Army used 12 players for at least two minutes each in the first half ...Marcus Nelson added two blocked shots to his Academy single-season record (32) ... Cleveland Richard has now scored in double figures in 11 of his last 13 games. Richard tied his career high with three three-pointers ... The win was Army’s first Patriot League victory at home since 1995 when Christl Arena hosted the first and second rounds of the postseason ... Army has now won seven of its last 10 home games versus Patriot League opponents ... The Black Knights are now 3-14 this season when scoring less than 60 points ... Army has led or has been tied at halftime in all 11 of its wins ... Army has defeated Lehigh in consecutive meetings for the first time since sweeping the 2001-02 series ... The Black Knights are 3-0 all-time in Patriot League Tournament play against the Mountain Hawks ... American won both meetings with Army this season by more than 20 points.