UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Freshmen Anthony D’Orazio and Mackey McKnight combined for 30 of the team’s 56 points in their collegiate debuts, but it wasn’t enough, as the Lehigh men’s basketball team dropped a 70-56 final in Friday’s season opener at Penn State. The Mountain Hawks led, 27-21, at the half, but struggled in shooting only 33 percent from the field in the second stanza.
“I was extremely pleased with our focus at the beginning of the game,” said head coach Brett Reed. “We did a solid job defensively holding Penn State to 21 points [in the first half]. We felt very good going into the half.”
“At the beginning of the second half, Penn State asserted its will and capitalized on its strength and size, which helped them regain control of the game,” he continued. “It was a three-point game with under 12 minutes remaining in the second half. I think that’s a good indication of the type game it was.”
D’Orazio led the offense with 17 points behind 6-of-9 shooting. Fourteen came in a span of only four minutes in the first half. McKnight chipped in with 13 along with three assists. Sophomore C.J. McCollum finished the season debut with seven. Junior John Adams and senior Rob Keefer each had six.
“Mackey did a good job against a very quick defensive player,” said Reed. “He was able to get us into our offensive set, make shots and do a great job at the point guard position. Anthony answered the call when C.J. picked up his second foul. He was a huge lift; he played aggressively, with a great deal of control and a great deal of confidence.”
A low scoring first half saw only seven total points scored in the game’s first 9:21, including a span of 6:24 with no points on either side. With Penn State holding a 6-4 lead, that’s when D’Orazio took over, scoring 14 of the team’s next 16 points over the next four minutes to propel the Mountain Hawks to a 20-11 advatnage. He started by hitting his first three-pointer with 9:52 to go, finishing an old-fashioned three-point play with 8:28 remaining, hitting a jumper at 7:41 and then consecutive three-pointers with 6:18 and 5:52 remaining, respectively.
A McKnight jumper gave the Mountain Hawks their largest lead of the game at 22-12, but Penn State responded to pull within six at the half. A Talor Battle three-pointer as time was expiring trimmed a nine-point Lehigh advantage to six heading into the locker room.
The Nittany Lions came out strong in the second half and took their first lead since 6-4 when a Battle three-pointer made it 36-33 Penn State with 15:20 to go. A McKnight jumper pulled Lehigh back to within one, but the Nittany Lions went on an 8-0 run over the next 3:35. They continued the run, scoring 19 of the game’s next 22 points to pull ahead, 57-40, with 6:14 to go, effectively putting the game away.
Lehigh shot 37 percent from the field (19-for-52) while Penn State bounced back from a tough start to finish at 40 percent (25-for-62). The Mountain Hawks also shot 38 percent (8-for-21) from three-point range while the Nittany Lions were at 27 percent (6-for-22). Penn State led the battle of the boards, 45-27.
The Mountain Hawks now look ahead to their home opener on Monday at 7 p.m. against Wagner inside Stabler Arena. Lehigh then hits the road next Friday at Monmouth before hosting defending Ivy League Champion and Sweet 16 participant Cornell on Nov. 22 at 7 p.m. Tickets for all home games are now on sale and may be purchased on Lehighsports.com or by calling the ticket office at (610) 7LU-GAME.
“For a good 30 minutes, we competed extremely hard and played well together and were right in the ballgame,” said Reed. “I am proud of our effort and energy. There were a lot of positives to build from, competing against a quality opponent [like Penn State]. We had the opportunity to learn a lot about ourselves this evening.”