Posted: December 30, 2005
BETHLEHEM, Pa. – Lehigh staged a furious second half comeback and had a chance to win down the stretch, but an early 18-point deficit was simply too much to overcome as the Mountain Hawks fell 69-66 to Towson on Friday afternoon at Stabler Arena. Junior Jose Olivero scored a game-high 24 points, as he connected on eight of 16 shots from the field, but his contested three-pointer with three seconds remaining was off the mark, dropping the Brown and White to 5-8 on the season. Junior Kyle Neptune added 16 points for the Mountain Hawks, while senior tri-captain Mitch Gilfillan scored a season-high 12, but it wasn’t enough, as Lehigh saw its four-game home winning streak come to an end. Towson was led by Gary Neal’s 19 tallies and improves its record to 4-6 on the year.
“We showed a lot of character with the way we fought back,” said head coach Billy Taylor following the game. “I wish we had come out with a little more focus and energy on our home floor, but the guys that came in off the bench in the first half gave us a nice lift and in the second half we were able to hit some shots and had a chance down the stretch to get this one.” He added, “You have to give Towson credit for the way they came out today and really attacked us from the start.”
Lehigh came out slow to start and fell behind 16-5 at the 12:44 mark following two free throws by Dennard Abraham. The Tigers would increase their lead to 24-8 with 8:49 left in the half when Lawrence Hamm connected on a jumper, but Lehigh slowly found its rhythm and cut the deficit down to ten with 51 seconds left when Gilfillan hit a pretty left-handed finger roll to make the score 30-20. The Mountain Hawks would go to the locker room trailing 33-22 which was not too bad considering they only connected on 24 percent of their field goals, while Towson hit on 46 percent.
In the second half, the Brown and White found its stroke, hitting 55 percent from the field and a blistering 50 percent from downtown. The lead was ten at the 9:47 mark, but a quick 7-0 run capped by a free throw by Olivero made the score 47-44 in favor of the Tigers with 7:53 to go. Lehigh then tied the score for the first time all day at 55 with 5:44 left on a three-pointer from the right wing by freshman Greg Page, but the Mountain Hawks were unable to take the lead. The two teams went back and forth down the stretch with Olivero and Neal matching one another shot for shot on each end of the court. At one point Olivero hit two free throws and a three-pointer and Neal countered with two free throws and a jumper of his own.
With 45 seconds left, the score was knotted at 64 when Towson took a timeout. Neal then sunk a jumper putting the Tigers up two, and on Lehigh’s next possession, Olivero hoisted the deep three that was off the mark. Towson then sunk three free throws to secure the win.
Lehigh shot 36 percent on the day and 36 percent from three-point range, while Towson hit 46 percent of its shots from the field. The Mountain Hawks out rebounded its opponent 33-32 and had 14 assists to the visitors 12.
Lehigh will return to action on Monday evening when the Mountain Hawks travel to New York City to take on Ivy League foe Columbia. Tip-off is set for 7:00 and the game will be broadcast on ESPN Radio 1230 and 1320 AM as well as lehighsports.com immediately following coverage of the Fiesta Bowl.