Basketball, NCAA, Sports

Men’s basketball squanders first-half cushion, falls to Lehigh in the Patriot League semifinal

From the opening tip, the energy inside Case Gym was palpable. With a spot in the Patriot League Tournament final on the line, the Terriers jumped out to a 21-point lead late in the first half and led by 18 at the break.

Boston University’s bench watches senior guard Miles Brewster shoot a free throw to send the Terriers to overtime in the Patriot League semi-final game against Lehigh on Sunday. The Terriers fell to the Mountain Hawks 84-79. MOLLY POTTER/DFP PHOTOGRAPHER

Despite the cushion, the second-seeded Boston University men’s basketball team (16-17, 10-8 PL) fell to the sixth seed, Lehigh University (14-17, 9-9 PL), 84-79 in overtime.

The pain from the loss is going to linger.

“We let [the game] get away from us,” senior wing Anthony Morales said. “This one’s going to sting.”

Morales was at the center of BU’s strong start. He scored seven straight points on back-to-back 3-pointers, followed by a left-handed finish off a drive from the top of the key to put the Terriers out front 15-5 with about 14 minutes remaining in the half.

The senior, who came off the bench, finished the half with 14 points and four of his team’s 11 first-half threes.

Freshman guards Kyrone Alexander and Michael McNair each nailed a pair of threes in the game’s first 20 minutes, and senior guard Miles Brewster drained a corner three with 24 seconds left, giving the Terriers a 48-26 halftime lead.

The home crowd erupted at the first half buzzer, but they were in for a shock in the second half.

“When you’re leading like that…the mental part of the game changes,” BU coach Joe Jones said postgame. “They’re coming after you, and you’re trying to hold on, and we’ve obviously given up some leads.”

It’s true, the Terriers have often played strong first halves and followed up with an abysmal second. Regardless, they entered Sunday’s game on a season’s best six-game winning streak, which included a 89-78 overtime victory against the Mountain Hawks on Feb. 28.

The second half started like the first ended, with Alexander sinking a corner three off a slick feed from sophomore forward Nico Nobili. Alexander finished with 18 points, shooting 4-for-6 from behind the arc.

Lehigh had seen enough. They turned up the heat defensively, which created open looks, and shots started to fall. 

Cam Gillus, a freshman guard for the Mountain Hawks, got hot and paced the Lehigh offense on a 12-0 run, netting shot after shot, to cut the BU lead to 49-42.

Gillus, who averaged 4.7 points per game entering the contest, finished the game with a career high 30 points, shooting 9-12 from the floor and 6-8 from three.

“Gillus was outstanding. Oh, my goodness, man,” Jones said as he peered down at the stat sheet.

Despite not scoring for a six-minute stretch in the second half, the Terriers didn’t fold.

Morales stepped up on the defensive end, coming up with two huge blocks on two straight possessions. He finished with a career-high 27 points and three blocks in what could have been his final game in a Terrier uniform.

“I knew I was capable of playing at this level… and I finally got the chance to show the world,” Morales said of his time at BU.

After Lehigh took its first lead of the game with seven minutes to play courtesy of an elbow jumper from junior guard Keith Higgins Jr., the two teams traded buckets for the rest of regulation.

With two minutes left on the clock, BU found themselves down 68-64. Morales buried his sixth three of the game from the wing to cut the Mountain Hawk lead to one with just over a minute remaining.

Gillus sank two free throws to give Lehigh a 70-69 lead with 17 seconds left. Luckily for the Terriers, Brewster earned a trip to the charity stripe with only three seconds on the clock.

It was deja vu.

In their first meeting of the season, Brewster made two free throws with four seconds left to lift BU to a 72-71 win.

This time, however, Brewster sank the first and left the second short, tying the game at 70 and forcing overtime.

Missed free throws were prevalent for the Terriers, as they shot just 11-21 from the line, missing nine in the second half.

“If you miss free throws in these types of games, it’s hard to win,” Jones said. “It’s hard to overcome that.”

Overtime was Lehigh’s junior guard Tyler Whitney-Sidney’s time to shine. He scored eight straight points on two tough finishes around the rim and nailed four free throws.

He finished the game with 21 points, making 10 of his 11 attempted free throws. 

The Terriers never led in the extra period, and BU’s season ended with heartbreak.

“It’s just a hard way to lose…It’s never going to leave you,” Jones said. “The guys will look back and feel like we let one get away.” 

Regardless of the outcome of Sunday’s game, the Terriers can look back on the season fondly. 

They were picked to finish fifth in the conference with eight new players, but they didn’t listen. The team bought in, and Jones will always remember that.

“Out of all the teams I’ve had, this is by far one of my favorites and probably the most coachable group I’ve ever coached,” Jones said.

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