Posted: February 3, 2007
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senior Jose Olivero sank a pair of free throws with 4.5 seconds remaining to put Lehigh up 56-54 and the Mountain Hawks defense held strong, forcing American into a contested shot as the buzzer sounded, lifting Lehigh to its fourth consecutive victory inside of Bender Arena on Saturday evening over the Eagles. With the win, the Mountain Hawks (10-14 overall) snap a two-game losing streak and maintain their hold of third place in the Patriot League with a record of 5-3 in league action. The Eagles fall to 11-12 overall and 3-6 in league play.
“I’ve said it before, but it seems like anytime we play these guys, it’s a classic battle,” head coach Billy Taylor expressed afterwards. “We knew coming in that it would be a hostile environment, which it was, and that American would not budge, which they didn’t. But give credit to our team. They fought hard all night long and we received help from a number of guys, including two of our freshmen, Matt Shamis and Zahir Carrington, as well as our upperclassmen.” He added, “This was a very important win for us heading into two home games next week; we really needed to get this one.”
Olivero led the Brown and White with 14 points on the evening, while Hall added 13 and Carrington chipped in with nine. Lehigh shot just 35 percent from the field, had only seven assists and was out rebounded 32-23, but the Mountain Hawks still were able to find a way to win just their second road game of the season. Lehigh forced 16 Eagle turnovers and scored 18 points off of those turnovers.
Olivero and Hall both recorded five rebounds, with Hall handing out a team-best three helpers, while as a team, Lehigh sank 23 of 29 free throws, good for 79.3 percent. American was led in scoring by sophomore Derrick Mercer’s 14 points, while senior Arvydas Eitutavicius added 13.
The first half was an offensive struggle for Lehigh, as the Mountain Hawks shot just 27 percent from the field. Despite their struggles, the Mountain Hawks still took a 24-22 lead into halftime, led by Hall’s nine points. Olivero added six and freshman Matt Shamis scored four, including two on a pretty fast break pass from Hall. Olivero ripped down a team-high five boards and Hall and senior Kyle Neptune handed out the Brown and White’s only two assists.
American shot the ball rather well in the opening 20 minutes, connecting on 43 percent of its field goal attempts, but 12 turnovers coupled with five Lehigh steals, helped propel the Mountain Hawks into the lead. Eitutavicius led the Eagles with nine points on three-of-five shooting, while seniors Brayden Billbe and Andre Ingram added four tallies each. Paulius Joneliunas recorded five rebounds and four different Eagles handed out one assist each.
In the second half, American quickly came out and took a four-point lead as Mercer scored twice and Billbe sank a shot of his own, which made the score 30-26 with 17:17 remaining. The Eagles lead increased to six at 36-30 on a jumper by Mercer at the 13:36 mark, but Lehigh slowly chipped away and was able to pull in front at the 5:41 mark on a three-pointer from Hall. Two free throws from Neptune with 4:45 to go made it a five-point ballgame, but American sliced it to two on a lay up from Joneliunas with 3:10 to go.
Olivero made a pair from the line with 2:51 remaining, which made the score 51-47, but American refused to go away, getting to within a single point with 1:48 to go. Olivero again hit a pair from the line, this time with 50 ticks left, making the score 54-50. Mercer responded with a lay up and Eitutavicius hit a short jumper to tie the score at 54 with 14 seconds remaining, but Lehigh got the ball back, Olivero drew a foul on a hard drive to the hoop, and the Fairfax native calmly sank the two winning free throws in front of a large contingent of family and friends.
Lehigh returns to action on Wednesday evening when the Mountain Hawks take the floor at Stabler Arena for the first time since January 20, welcoming the Midshipmen of Navy to town. Tip-off is set for 7:05 and tickets can be purchased by calling 610-7LU-GAME, by logging onto lehighsports.com or prior to the game at the arena box office.