Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
It’s hard to win on the road in college basketball, and even harder when that team is ranked among in the top 25 teams in the country.
Then take away two starters with a lot of talent and experience, and it’s a steep hole before the game even starts.
Despite the best efforts of their best player, shorthanded Lehigh couldn’t keep up with a young but potent Baylor squad, falling to the No. 19 team in the country 99-77 to start off their season.
Baylor (1-0) committed a technical foul before the game even started when multiple Bears players dunked within 30 minutes of tip-off, which is a violation under NCAA rules. All-American shooting guard C.J. McCollum sank both free-throws, giving Lehigh (0-1) a 2-0 lead before the game even started.
McCollum did all he could to keep his team in the game, scoring 36 points (on 14-of-31 shooting) and grabbing eight rebounds in 38 minutes for a shorthanded Mountain Hawks squad. Senior forward Gabe Knutson and junior guard B.J. Bailey were both held out with minor injuries; sophomore forward Conroy Baltimore (five points, six rebounds) and junior guard Anthony D’Orazio (0 points, one assist) started in their stead.
However, a 16-3 Baylor run over an eight-minute stretch early in the first half put enough space between the two teams to give the Bears an advantage they wouldn’t give up for the remainder of the contest. Lehigh started off the game shooting 3-for-14 (21.4 percent), and though they were able to rebound from scoring just 10 points in the opening nine minutes to finish the opening half with 41 points, they still trailed by 10 at the break.
The Bears got a nice debut from freshman center Isaiah Austin, a true 7-footer who was ranked by ESPN.com as the third-best prospect in the country. Austin had 22 points on a very efficient 10-of-12 from the floor and pulled in four rebounds before apparently leaving with an injury, while junior forward Cory Jefferson added 26 points and 13 rebounds to lead his team.
The second half’s opening put an end to any hopes of a Lehigh comeback, with a 13-5 run putting the Bears up 64-46; the Mountain Hawks wouldn’t get any closer than 13 points the rest of the way.
Lehigh’s next game is in the Preseason NIT, when they travel to Pittsburgh to take on Robert Morris in the event’s first round on Monday night.