Strong defensive effort leads Lehigh to 66-38 win
Posted: December 31, 2008
NEWARK, N.J. – Lehigh improved to 9-3 for the first time since 1925 with a 66-38 victory over the NJIT Highlanders at the Fleischer Center on Wednesday afternoon. The Mountain Hawks used a stifling defensive effort to hold the Highlanders to 11 total field goals and 22-percent shooting, and a balanced offensive attack, led by sophomore Michael Ojo’s career-high 14 point effort to earn their fourth consecutive victory. Joining Ojo in double figures were sophomore Rob Keefer with 12 and junior Zahir Carrington with 11. NJIT was led by Isaiah Wilkerson’s 12 points as the Highlanders fall to 0-13 following the loss.
Asked afterwards about his hot shooting, Ojo said he was simply doing whatever it took to win. “I was just trying to do my best and do everything I can to help the team win.” He continued, “I’m just trying to contribute. Coming off of the bench, I’m able to see what the team needs and that plays to my advantage. Whether it’s rebounding or defense or hitting open shots, I just want to help the team anyway possible.”
Head coach Brett Reed then offered his thoughts on the victory. “If you take away the first five minutes of the game where we went on that run, we really played even for the remainder of the game so there are obviously some things that we need to clean up. But they were stubborn; they got the ball inside, they penetrated in the second half and they created opportunities for themselves.”
He continued, “Looking ahead to our game with Columbia, today served as a nice warm up for the game because of the similar styles. I mentioned this to our players about how Columbia will slap us, bump us on screens and overall just try to make things tough for us on offense, but that is college basketball. You have to be strong with the ball, make smart decisions and have the right mentality.”
Lehigh shot 40-percent from the field and out rebounded the New Jersey school 46 to 32, led by Phil Anderson’s seven caroms. The Mountain Hawks handed out 18 assists on 23 field goals, and sank nine three-pointers, led by Ojo’s perfect three-of-three showing. Every healthy Lehigh player played in the game, including freshman Jordan Hamilton, who drilled a three-pointer down the stretch for his first collegiate points.
NJIT turned the ball over 16 times and went just 1-for-13 from three-point range. The Highlanders had only three assists and missed ten of their 25 free throw attempts. Jheryl Wilson contributed eight points on the afternoon, while Gary Garris and Paulius Skema both scored six.
Lehigh’s defense was the story on Wednesday afternoon, as the Mountain Hawks held NJIT scoreless for the first 6:11 of the game and raced out to a 12-0 lead. The Highlanders got to within seven on a free throw from Dan Stonkus at the 11:56 mark of the half, but Lehigh scored the game’s next six points to go in front by 13. The Mountain Hawks led 30-17 after one half of play, limiting the Highlanders to 16-percent shooting and just four field goals in the opening 20 minutes. Carrington led the Brown and White with eight points, while Ojo added seven.
A three-point play right out of halftime by Anderson pushed Lehigh’s lead to 16, and the Mountain Hawks ‘D’ took over, holding NJIT without a point for the first 4:29 of the second half. Lehigh used a balanced offensive attack to work the ball around for open shots, which led to a relatively easy win. Marquis Hall sank a free throw with 6:27 on the clock to put the Brown and White in front by 20, while a three-pointer by the junior captain pushed the lead to 23 one minute later. Anderson sank a three of his own with 1:32 to go, making the score 63-38, while Hamilton punctuated the day for Lehigh with his first points in the Brown and White at the 29 second mark.
Lehigh will be back in action on Friday afternoon when the Mountain Hawks ring in the New Year versus the Columbia Lions at Stabler Arena on January 2. Tip-off is set for 4:30 and all of the action will be broadcast live on ESPN Radio 1230 and 1320 AM with Matt Kerr and Greg Falkenbach ’72 providing the commentary. Live video of the contest will be available at Lehighsports.com.