LARAMIE, Wyo. - Senior Gabe Knutson gave Lehigh a two-point lead with just over five seconds remaining, but Wyoming answered on the other end with a buzzer-beating three from Nathan Sobey to end the Mountain Hawks’ season in heartbreaking fashion, 67-66 in the first round of the College Basketball Invitation on Tuesday. Lehigh was down by 10 in the first half, yet responded to open a seven-point second-half advantage, but the Cowboys staged a 10-2 run over the final five minutes to snatch the victory and end Lehigh’s season.
The Mountain Hawks finish their season 21-10, their third 20 win season and national postseason appearance in the last four years.
“This team has done some pretty good things throughout the year and put ourselves in position to be successful, including in this game,” said Lehigh head coach Brett Reed. “A play at the buzzer changed the complexion of things. Everyone will look to the last play, but we had some mental errors over the last 10 minutes that were costly.”
Knutson led the way with 23 points to jump two spots on the Lehigh career scoring list (to ninth) with 1,526 career points. He passed Marquis Hall and Matt Logie, also moving to 22nd in Patriot League history. Knutson finished 9-of-15 from the field and 5-of-6 from the free throw line. Junior Anthony D’Orazio added 14 points on 5-of-11 shooting to go with five rebounds. Sophomore Corey Schaefer added nine points, senior Holden Greiner had eight and junior Mackey McKnight seven to go with five assists.
“Gabe was an anchor for our offense,” said Reed. “He was able to get us interior points, interior touches, interior opportunities and we were able to ride him during a stretch. I was proud of his effort tonight, proud of his career.”
Derrious Gilmore led Wyoming with 25 points, including six made three-pointers. Seventeen of those points (and five threes) came in the first half as the Cowboys shot 58 percent from three for the game (11-of-19). Larry Nance Jr. added 20 points and seven rebounds while Sobey had 12 including the biggest shot of the game.
“We put ourselves in position to be successful where we could walk away with this game,” said Reed. “We wanted to make sure we continued to convert on the offensive end, but we failed to do so too often. Give our guys credit though. With an extended amount of travel, they came out here with the desire and the want to ultimately go out and play.”
Lehigh was mere seconds away from breaking a couple impressive streaks. Wyoming entered winners of 22 straight nonconference games at home and still has not lost a nonconference game this season after beginning the season 13-0.
Wyoming got off to a fast start, led by Gilmore. The Cowboys took an early 4-0 lead before Knutson pulled the Mountain Hawks within 7-4 with 16:56 remaining. However, Wyoming scored 10 of the next 13 points as a Gilmore three made it 17-7 with 14:16 left in the first half.
Lehigh immediately answered with a D’Orazio three-point play followed by a Greiner three from the top of the key to pull within four (17-13) with 13:29 remaining. The run extended to 8-0 as sophomore Conroy Baltimore finished a layup from McKnight to pull the Mountain Hawks within two.
The Cowboys answered with more threes, extending their lead to 30-21 behind another Gilmore trey with 7:38 to go, already his fifth of the first half. Lehigh again had an answer, using a McKnight floater and two D’Orazio free throws to pull within 30-25 with 6:39 on the clock. A D’Orazio three and Knutson hook shot in the lane extended the run to 9-0 and pulled Lehigh even for the first time with 3:51 to go in the first half.
Wyoming ended a 4:54 scoreless drought with a three from Sobey, but Lehigh scored six of the final eight first-half points as a Knutson layup gave the Mountain Hawks their first lead, 36-35, at the half.
Lehigh extended its lead to three early in the second before the teams traded baskets over the ensuing minutes. A Schaefer three gave Lehigh a four-point lead (47-43) with 13:30 on the clock. It was short lived as Nance Jr. made a trey from the top of the key on the ensuing possession.
Gilmore hit a three (his sixth of the game) with 11:02 on the clock to give Wyoming a 49-47 lead. The Cowboys led 51-49, but Lehigh answered with a 7-0 run which began with a Baltimore free throw and ended with a McKnight fastbreak layup to make it 56-51 with 8:11 on the clock.
Lehigh’s lead reached seven for the first time following a McKnight drive to the hoop that made it 62-55 with 5:43 to go. Knutson made it 64-57 with 5:02 remaining, but that’s when the Mountain Hawks’ offense went cold, scoring only two points the rest of the way. Wyoming caught fire and ended the game on a 10-2 run to send Lehigh home in heartbreaking fashion. With 17 seconds remaining, Lehigh called timeout tied at 64. McKnight found Knutson for an easy layup with six seconds remaining, but Wyoming went the other way as Josh Adams found Nathan Sobey in the corner, who drained the three for the 67-66 final.
“I’m proud of the accomplishments we’ve been able to secure over our recent history,” said Reed. “We’ve had success. The 20 win plateau is not easy to come by. We’ve had opportunities to play in the postseason and challenge ourselves. When we look back at this era at Lehigh, we’ll look at it very favorably. We need to build on it as we move forward.”
Lehigh finished at 48 percent from the field (25-of-52) and 31 percent from three-point range (4-of-13) while Wyoming came in at 54 percent (25-of-46) and 58 percent from long distance (11-of-19). The Mountain Hawks won the battle of the boards, 29-24.
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