SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Senior Jose Olivero scored a career-high 32 points, classmate Kyle Neptune added 22 points and Lehigh hung tough with Big East member and head coach Billy Taylor’s alma mater Notre Dame all evening long, but in the end the Mountain Hawks fell 93-87 at the Joyce Center on Monday. Olivero sank five three pointers, while Neptune was a perfect four-of-four from beyond the arc, as Lehigh sank 57 percent of its field goal attempts. With the loss, Lehigh falls to 2-6, while the Irish, who were led by Rob Kurz’s 25 tallies, improves to 4-1.
“I could not be any prouder of the effort our guys gave out here tonight,” explained Taylor afterwards. “We really came with the passion and energy that we had been lacking during the past few games and gave ourselves a chance to win.” He added, “It was an exciting atmosphere and a great experience for our guys to be a part of, and we will certainly learn from this game. I would like to thank Notre Dame, all of the staff, and (Notre Dame Head) Coach (Mike) Brey for extending an invite to us to come out and play here. We were warmly welcomed and enjoyed every bit of our stay.”
Lehigh sank an incredible 14 of 19 three pointers on the evening (73.7%), and handed out 18 assists, led by freshman Marquis Hall’s six. Hall and junior Bryan White finished with a team-high seven rebounds and added eight points, while sophomore Phil Anderson came off the bench to chip in with eight points on three-of-four shooting and senior Jason Mgebroff added nine tallies. Notre Dame received 21 points from Colin Falls and 14 from Russell Carter.
Behind a torrid first-half three-point shooting performance (81.8%), Lehigh went to the locker rooms ahead 46-44. Olivero led the charge with 18 points, which included four shots from beyond the arc and one which came just before the halftime buzzer. Neptune and Hall added eight points apiece for the Mountain Hawks, with Hall and White pulling down a team-high five boards. Hall dished out a team best four assists as Lehigh connected on 51 percent of its field goals and turned the ball over just seven times. The Mountain Hawks led by as many as 13 points in the half, which came with 8:29 to go after a ferocious slam dunk and ensuing free throw by freshman Zahir Carrington.
The Irish would cut it to a six-point affair, but Lehigh quickly got its lead back up to ten when Olivero and Carrington scored on back-to-back lay ups. Tory Jackson hit a three, Kurz scored on a lay up, Carter hit a bucket and a free throw, and after Kurz scored yet again, the game was tied at 41 with 1:02 remaining. The Irish would take a one point lead late, but Olivero swished a three as time expired to send Lehigh into the break up by two.
Notre Dame was led by Kurz’s ten points, which came on four-of-six shooting, while Falls added nine points, including two three pointers. Carter ripped down five first half boards and Kyle McAlarney dished out three helpers as Notre Dame shot even better than Lehigh, at 53.6%. The Irish hit on 10 of 16 free throws in a half in which the home team was whistled for six fouls, and Lehigh was hit with 12 whistles.
In the second half, Lehigh was actually hotter than the first, shooting an incredible 65.2 percent, while Notre Dame sank 56 percent of its shots for the half. The Irish were able to hang around and ultimately take the lead thanks to a 26 of 33 showing at the free throw line on the night, compared to just 14 of 19 for Lehigh.
The start of the second was tight as Lehigh increased its lead to four, only to see the Irish come back and tie it one minute later. Neither team would go ahead by more than four points until the home team surged in front by six at the 13:11 mark on a three from Falls. That lead would swell to nine and then ten at the 7:01 clip off of a pair of free throws by Kurz.
With 4:07 to go, the Mountain Hawks found themselves down by 13, but they refused to go quietly and after a bucket by Olivero and a three from Anderson, Lehigh was down by just eight with 3:01 to go. Neptune sank a three with just under two minutes to go, making it a nine-point ballgame, but that was as close as the Brown and White would get until the Brooklyn native again sank a three, this one as the clock ran out.
Lehigh returns to action on Wednesday evening when the Mountain Hawks welcome Swarthmore to Stabler Arena. Tip-off is set for 7:05 and tickets can be purchased prior to the game at the arena box office.
On Thursday, November 30, fans are invited to meet Lehigh head coach Billy Taylor and select student-athletes at the first-ever Lehigh basketball luncheon. The event will take place at Starters Restaurant on Route 378 in Bethlehem and will begin at 12:00 p.m., running until 1:00. Coach Taylor and members of the team in attendance will field questions from fans and alumni. Cost of the all-you-can-eat buffet is $11. The event will also be streamed on Lehigh’s website at lehighsports.com later that afternoon, for those who cannot make it to Starters.