WEST POINT – Army West Point men’s basketball (7-7, 1-0 PL) edged out Lehigh (5-7, 0-1 PL) by a score of 80-78 in the Patriot League opener on Friday night. Chris Mann delivered the game-winning shot with 22 seconds remaining to give Army the late lead at home before getting a defensive stop in the closing seconds as a three-pointer from Lehigh was off the mark.
After Lehigh got out to a quick 5-2 lead, Army would connect on its next six shot attempts to take a 17-8 lead within the first 4:30 of the contest. Ethan Roberts scored thrice in the sequence, including a pair of looks from downtown while Coleton Benson added a three and two-point jumper. The Black Knights eventually made it 22-8 after another triple from Benson, who came into the game leading the conference in three-point makes.
Army continued to light it up from the field in the opening 20 minutes, eventually seeing a 36-15 lead with 7:07 left in the half after another Roberts three and a layup from Charlie Peterson. Army was 16-27 (59.3%) from the floor in the half (7-11 from 3PT) on the way to a 48-32 lead at the break. Roberts had 17 points at the half behind 5-5 shooting from the field while Benson finished the half with 12 points on 4-5 shooting.
Lehigh quickly made it a ten-point game with a run to start the second half, which was answered by a triple from Isaiah Caldwell which put Army back up by 16. The Mountain Hawks started to chip away at the lead, getting it down to single digits with 12:50 to play, but Roberts kept his perfect shooting night going with a three to put Army back up 63-52. The Black Knights held on to a 69-63 with 8:07 to go, with Lehigh using an 8-0 spurt to take its first lead since the opening minutes with 4:17 to play.
Army retook the lead on a three from Roberts with 3:39 to play, his fifth consecutive hit from three-point land in the game. After a Chris Mann free-throw gave Army a 75-74 lead, Lehigh answered with a basket at 1:52 to go back ahead. Jalen Rucker ignited the crowd with a pull-up jumper with 1:20 to play to give Army back its one-point lead, 77-76.
Needing a stop, Army surrendered a go-ahead basket off an offensive board with 48 seconds to play, setting up a key possession down by a point. Rucker controlled before feeding Mann in the corner, who splashed his first three of the night to give Army the late lead, needing just one more stop for the victory. The Army defense held strong, forcing a tough look from beyond the arc that fell into the hands of TJ Small to give Army a 1-0 start to conference play.