Lee Kunkel (@Kunkel5)
When Lehigh tipped off their season Friday night in Minneapolis to take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers, you couldn’t blame even the biggest Mountain Hawk fans for being a little confused when the starting lineups came out.
The Mountain Hawks had three newcomers who have never played a minute of college basketball in the starting five. Forwards Jesse Chuku and Tim Kempton Jr. made up the frontcourt and guard Austin Price got the start in the backcourt with Anthony D’Orazio out injured.
That inexperience showed. Minnesota raced out to a 7-0 and then 12-3 lead at the first media timeout as Lehigh gave the Gophers some easy buckets, turned the ball over, and committed some silly fouls. The Mountain Hawks struggled with the imposing size and defensive pressure that the Gophers employed early in the game.
Coach Brett Reed thought those two factors were ultimately what decided the outcome.
“We looked very uncomfortable and out of sorts in the first half. That is natural when you start three players with zero college basketball experience. We were also going up against a team that is disruptive defensively and it almost compounds that inexperience,” Reed told CoBL after the game.
Minnesota’s length played the biggest role in the game as many of the Mountain Hawks struggled to get any points in the paint outside of Tim Kempton, and even he wasn’t great. It wasn’t until the 11:30 mark that Lehigh recorded their first points in the paint.
6-11 center Elliott Eliason dominated both sides of the ball for certain stretches and finished with 11 points and 17 rebounds along with two blocks.
“Their size and length was a big factor, but it was even more effective with their defensive scheme. We turned the ball over 11 times in the first half, and a lot of those were unforced. I mean no disrespect to them, but I think a lot of that was due to our inexperience,” Reed said.
The Gophers switched up their defenses a lot too, going from man to man to match-up zone, 2-3 zone and even showed some full court press. This seemed to really throw the Mountain Hawks off as they regularly faced having to run offense with the shot clock running down and little to no rhythm throughout their various sets.
The Gophers used that stifling ‘D’ to grab a 37-18 halftime lead.
Minnesota came out of the half with much of the same dominant play stretching their lead to 24, but then the Mountain Hawks settled in. Lehigh used a 13-1 run to get with in 12 at the 9:47 mark, but the Gophers quickly countered with a 9-0 run themselves stretching the lead back out to 22.
Lehigh didn’t get their first bench points until the 12:30 mark when freshman Miles Simelton hit a three. They finished with only six bench points. For a team starting three newcomers, not getting any production from the bench is going to be a big problem down the line if that trend continues.
Coach Reed isn’t too worried about that because the Mountain Hawks used a shortened bench due to some injuries and lack of experience.
“Ultimately we had reduced minutes from our bench. I thought Justin Goldsborough gave us some pretty solid rebounding potential, and it demonstrated a pretty solid role that he could play. Unfortunately are bench was very much shortened with the exclusion of Anthony D’Orazio. We only had one senior travelling with us, and only two juniors that actually played within this game. Its indicative of how young we are,” Reed said.
Lehigh was a lot more competitive in the second half (the second half score was 44-44), but the Gophers took this one 81-62.
Andre Hollins finished with 18 points and 5 rebounds to go along with some impressive fast break dunks, and fellow Memphis native Austin Hollins (unrelated) finished with 11 points and 3 steals for the Gophers.
Mackey McKnight, who played well but didn’t have enough help from his companions led his team with 18. Austin Price finished with 15. Jesse Chuku had a nice night on the glass, finishing with 10 boards.
Lehigh heads home to take on Rider back in Bethlehem on Tuesday November 12th. Tip-off is at 7pm.