Posted: March 5, 2006
WORCESTER, Mass. – Their second meeting in a week proved to be much like the first, but this time the outcome put a close to the Lehigh season. No. 2 Holy Cross wrapped up third seeded Lehigh’s season with a 73-66 win in the Patriot League semifinals at the Hart Center on Sunday afternoon. The Crusaders, playing in front of a rowdy crowd of 2,149 on their home floor, pick up their 20th win of the season and move on to the championship game later this week.
Lehigh ends its season with a 19-12 record.
“I am much happier with our effort and our focus out here today,” said Lehigh head coach Billy Taylor after the game. “I thought we played terrific defense, but you have to give credit to Holy Cross for their timely shots – not for where they made them, but when they made them.”
AP Photo/Winslow Townson
The game had the intensity and physical play expected of a championship game, with players diving a little harder for loose balls and jumping a little higher to grab rebounds. Though the stands were about two-thirds full, the Hart Center was rocking on a Sunday afternoon with a trip to the league’s title game later in the week on the line.
After the Mountain Hawks scored the game’s first four points, the Crusaders answered with an 11-0 run to take an 11-4 lead. However, Lehigh battled back as the physical play continued to tie the score at 13 apiece.
Late in the half, with his team leading by four, Holy Cross junior Keith Simmons brought the fans to their feet with a thunderous two-handed dunk on a fast break to put the home team up 26-20 with just over two minutes remaining in the half.
From there, the two teams traded buckets and free throws, and the Crusaders took a 32-26 lead into the locker room at halftime. The physical affair resulted in 13 fouls whistled on the Mountain Hawks over the first 20 minutes, and nine on the Crusaders. Lehigh was 8-of-10 from the stripe, and the Crusaders were 10-of-16 from the line.
Joe Knight led Lehigh’s first half efforts with eight points – including a perfect 4-of-4 from the line. Knight also grabbed four rebounds and came away with three steals. As a team, the Mountain Hawks shot just 30% in the first half, sinking nine-of-30 shot attempts.
The Lehigh defense forced nine Holy Cross turnovers, though the Crusaders shot 48% from the field. Simmons led the Crusaders with 12 first half points, including 2-of-2 from long range and 4-of-4 from the stripe.
Physical play remained the order of the day after halftime, and the Crusaders went up by eight, 50-42, after Keith Simmons converted a fast-break lay-up in which he was fouled. The ensuing free throw pushed the Holy Cross lead to eight with 10:20 remaining.
With the score still 50-42, Lehigh’s Knight was whistled for his fourth foul, and he was forced to come out at the 8:49 mark. Two Torey Thomas free throws extended the Holy Cross advantage to ten, at 52-42.
With Knight in foul trouble seeing limited time down the stretch, Lehigh managed to forge a 16-10 run late in the game, drawing to within four at 65-61 with 1:06 left. However, the Crusaders hit eight-of-ten from the line in the game’s final minute to seal the win.
In all, Lehigh was whistled for thirty fouls on the afternoon, leading to 44 free throw attempts for the Crusaders. Senior James Anderson (four points, four rebounds, 17 minutes) was the only Lehigh player to foul out of the game, but four other Mountain Hawks registered four fouls apiece.
As a team, Lehigh was limited to just 32% shooting on the afternoon, led by 23 points from Knight in his final game at Lehigh. Junior guard Jose Olivero added 13 points, and sophomore Bryan White chipped in with ten. Knight, Olivero, and White all grabbed six rebounds for the visitors.
The Mountain Hawks sank just 3-of-17 attempts from beyond the three-point arc.
Holy Cross shot 45% on the afternoon, and connected on 32-of-44 free throw attempts. In his final game at the Hart Center, senior Kevin Hamilton scored 18 – including a 14-of-15 mark from the free throw line. Simmons added 20 points and nine boards in the win.
The Crusaders will visit Bucknell in the Patriot League championship game on Friday, March 10, at Sojka Pavilion in Lewisburg, Pa. The Bison topped No. 4 American by a 64-50 score at Bucknell on Sunday.