Posted: 01/16/2013 | Last updated: January 17, 2013 at 01:16 AM
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Down 23-9 midway through the first half, the Lehigh men’s basketball team responded in a big way, pulling out a hard-fought 63-57 win at American on Wednesday for its first 2-0 Patriot League start in six seasons. Senior Holden Greiner led the offense with 22 points behind a stellar 10-of-13 shooting while junior B.J. Bailey made a big steal with just over 30 seconds remaining and American down by three. The Mountain Hawks (12-4, 2-0 Patriot League) have now won three in a row as they return home to host Colgate Saturday at 7 p.m.
Junior Mackey McKnight added 11 points, six rebounds and five assists in a strong all-around performance. Bailey had six points and two rebounds while sophomore Corey Schaefer had six points. Junior Anthony D’Orazio and sophomore Stefan Cvrkalj added five apiece. Sophomore Conroy Baltimore posted five rebounds, along with a tip-in to give Lehigh its first lead of the game, 29-28.
American had four players finish with double-figure points, but got only nine points from the rest of its team. The Eagles came out soaring, but were ultimately held to 27 percent shooting from three-point range (6-of-22).
With the win, Lehigh snapped a two-game losing streak at Bender Arena while improving to 2-0 in league play for the first time since the 2006-07 season.
"American came to play tonight," said Lehigh head coach Brett Reed. "They knocked down open shots and made the plays they needed to make. We got a little bit skittish I think; they gave us a solid punch right from the onset and we weren't able to recover immediately. But our guys answered the challenge. They came to the forefront with intensity, energy and that defensive presence along with Holden Greiner pretty much putting us on his shoulders in the first half."
American knocked down its first three from long range to take an early 11-6 lead at the first media timeout. Greiner impressed in the early going, making a move to the basket and finishing with an emphatic slam to pull Lehigh within 6-4. He later made a bank shot to make it 9-6 before American responded with a 7-0 run to open a 16-6 advantage with 13:26 left in the first half.
McKnight broke a 5:11 scoreless drought with a three from the corner to pull Lehigh within 16-9. The Eagles answered with another 7-0 run to take their largest lead at 14 (23-9) with 9:08 on the clock.
That’s when Lehigh answered in a big way, ending the half on a 24-5 run to take a 31-28 lead into the locker room. Greiner started it with a three from the top of the key before freshman Justin Goldsborough hit a layup off a nifty feed from McKnight, forcing American coach Jeff Jones to call timeout.
A three-point play from Bailey pulled Lehigh within 28-25 with 3:40 on the clock. Greiner finished the half with four of the Mountain Hawks’ last six points. A tip-in from Baltimore gave Lehigh its first lead of the game at 29-28 before Greiner finished another move to make it 31-28 at the half.
In total, the Mountain Hawks held American scoreless for the final 4:37 of the first half after a Daniel Munoz jumper gave the Eagles a 28-22 lead.
Greiner led the way with 16 first-half points on a perfect 7-of-7 shooting including 2-of-2 from three-point range. Lehigh shot 45 percent in the first half (13-of-29) to American’s 36 percent (11-of-31). The Mountain Hawks were 38 percent from long range (3-of-8) while the Eagles were 25 percent (4-of-16).
Lehigh scored nine of the first 11 second-half points to open a 38-30 lead following a Gabe Knutson hoop with 18:11 on the clock.
American answered by going on a 12-4 run capped off by a Stephen Lumpkins layup with 12:16 on the clock. However, McKnight found Schaefer in the corner for a three just 19 seconds later to give Lehigh a 45-42 lead back again.
The Mountain Hawks extended their run to 9-0, which included five straight from Cvrkalj. The first came via a fastbreak layup before following with a three-pointer, forcing American to call timeout with 9:20 left in the second half.
The run extended to 12-0 following a McKnight layup. Lumpkins snapped American’s 4:11 scoreless drought with a free throw before hitting a layup to pull the Eagles within 55-45 with 7:25 on the clock.
The Eagles answered with four straight points and 10 of the next 13 as a Blake Jolivette driving layup pulled American within 58-55 with 58.9 seconds left in the second. However, Lehigh buckled down when it mattered most, and it came on the defensive end. American got the ball back looking to tie with a three, but Bailey stripped Munoz then the Mountain Hawks hit three free throws down the stretch to close out the hard-fought 63-57 win.
"American is a very disciplined team," said Reed. "They understand where their looks are coming, they generally don't turn the ball over a great deal and beat themselves. For us to force  turnovers and get those  steals, it's indicative of the type of energy that we displayed out there for the majority of the game."
Lehigh finished at 47 percent from the field (24-of-51) and 40 percent from three-point range (6-of-15). The Eagles shot 43 percent (23-of-54) and 27 percent from long range (6-of-22). American won the battle of the boards, 40-26.
"I hope our guys understand that when we ratchet that intensity up a notch, we're a totally different team," said Reed. "That's the type of intensity we need to play with for a full 40 minutes. That's what we need to do to play the best basketball we can."
The Mountain Hawks return home to host Colgate on Saturday. Opening tipoff is set for 7 p.m. Lehigh then heads to Bucknell next Wednesday (Jan. 23) to face the Bison at 6 p.m. on CBS Sports Network.
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