Lehigh falls to No. 9 Auburn

Courtesy of LehighSports.com

AUBURN, Ala. – The Lehigh men’s basketball team led unbeaten, No. 9 Auburn 20-13 with less than seven minutes left in the first half, then after weathering a Tigers’ run, pulled back within seven with less than eight minutes left in the contest. However, Auburn ended the second half like it did the first, with a big run to defeat the Mountain Hawks, 74-51 on Saturday evening at Auburn Arena. Senior Jordan Cohen led Lehigh’s offense with 18 points to become the 38th player in program history to eclipse 1,000 career points. Defensively, the Mountain Hawks held the Tigers, coming off a Final Four appearance in 2018-19, to their third lowest point total of the season (in 11 games) and their lowest point total for any half this season (27 in the first).

Prior to Saturday, Auburn’s previous low for points in a half was 28 in the first half vs. Saint Louis.

“I don’t believe the final score is indicative of the competitiveness of this game,” said Lehigh head coach Brett Reed. “I thought for many possessions, we really battled and fought. Obviously, McCormick got hot during that segment late in the second half (knocking down three consecutive 3-pointers). We left some points at the free throw line and left some easy opportunities in an area like fast-break finishes.”

Cohen added a team-high six assists to go with his 18 points on 7-of-20 shooting. Freshman Evan Taylor was strong at both ends of the floor, posting 13 points and six rebounds.

“Evan looked the part out there,” said Reed. “To have a wing with his type of size and athleticism – getting his hands up and finishing straight up on some defensive contests – that was impressive. Hopefully he can continue to grow. He’s thirsty to learn. Every time we put him out there, he’s really thoughtful about his performance, he’s thoughtful about what we’re trying to do and he’s trying to learn and grow, which is a great quality as a freshman.”

Junior James Karnik also scored in double figures, finishing with 12 points on 6-of-9 shooting, five rebounds, two steals and three blocks.

Auburn held slim leads in the early going, but the Mountain Hawks battled back. Sophomore Jeameril Wilson knocked down a 3-pointer with 14:35 remaining in the first to give Lehigh its first lead, 9-6. Just over two minutes later, Cohen finished a layup to extend the Mountain Hawks’ run to 7-0.

Lehigh continued to lead for the ensuing minutes until a five-point Mountain Hawks’ surge, behind a Taylor 3-pointer and Wilson layup, gave Lehigh its largest lead at 20-13 with 7:17 left in the first.

Auburn responded in a big way, ending the half with 14 straight points. J’Von McCormick found himself in the middle of several Tigers’ runs Saturday, as the first of his game-high four treys gave Auburn the lead back at 23-20 with 2:48 left in the first. The Tigers took a 27-20 lead into halftime.

The Mountain Hawks wouldn’t back down in the second, using a mini 5-1 run, capped off by a Taylor 3-point play to pull Lehigh within 35-31 with 15:15 on the clock.

Auburn answered with an 11-2 run to take (at the time) its largest lead at 46-33, but the Mountain Hawks again answered with eight of the next 10 points. A Cohen 3-point play with 7:56 on the clock pulled the Mountain Hawks back within striking distance, 48-41.

The Tigers’ ensuing answer all but put the Mountain Hawks away. Auburn used a 13-3 run to take a 17-point advantage with just over five minutes remaining. McCormick hit three consecutive treys, all in the span of 1:05, to create separation. Within that run, Cohen did knock down a tough shot with 5:22 on the clock to give him 1,001 career points.

“I’m happy for Jordan,” said Reed. “He reached 1,000 tonight with six assists as well, which is something we really want to see. We’re going to need scoring production from him. We don’t necessarily score it the easiest and he’s one of our more natural scorers.”

Auburn continued to impress in the final minutes, on the way to the 74-51 final.

For the game, the Mountain Hawks shot 35.8 percent from the field (19-of-53), including 18.2 percent from 3-point range (2-of-11). Auburn finished at 41.8 percent (23-of-55) and 21.4 percent from long distance (6-of-28). The Tigers held a 37-30 edge in rebounds. Lehigh finished with 19 turnovers compared to 14 for Auburn.

“When you play a strong team like Auburn, there’s going to be times when they make some shots and make some plays,” said Reed. “You need to stay the course, particularly on offense, not turn it over, get the shots you’re looking for and that gives you an opportunity to weather the storm. Unfortunately, when they made plays and we went bone dry, like at the end of the first half, it just creates that margin which makes it hard to battle back.”

The Mountain Hawks will return to action next Sunday, Dec. 29 when they wrap up nonleague play at Princeton. Opening tipoff is set for 4 p.m.

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