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Flash tough down the stretch in victory

By Matt Popelka

For the Mirror

LORETO — After Saint Francis made a few key adjustments in the second half, the hot shooting of Lehigh cooled off and faltered down the stretch.

That allowed the Red Flash to cut into, and eventually take down, the Mountain Hawks’ lead that ballooned to as much as nine. Free throws down the stretch gave the Red Flash a 77-69 victory, and evened their season record at 5-5 Wednesday night at the DeGol Arena inside the Stokes Fieldhouse.

In the first half, the Mountain Hawks continuously raced into transition and used the switching nature of the Red Flash defense to get to the basket seemingly at will, putting up 42 points in the first half. SFU coach Rob Krimmel knew that the adjustments made at halftime were the key in the game’s turnaround,

“Defensively we were much better in the second half. The first half, (Lehigh) had too many open lanes and drives to the basket, and scored too much in transition,” he said.

The first half saw the Mountain Hawks turn the Red Flash over just three times, but the away team led 6-4 in fastbreak points due to Saint Francis’s poor shooting effort.

The adjustment that was made — a defense that stopped switching the bigger defenders on smaller, offensive players.

“I thought our guards did a better job keeping people in front of them,” Krimmel said. “We did a better job making (Lehigh) take contested shots at 17 feet (in the second half) instead of three-pointers or layups.”

Senior Keith Braxton led the way offensively with another boxscore-stuffing performance. He totaled 18 points, nine rebounds and nine assists.

Though he had a tough second half shooting from the field, hitting only one shot, he was a perfect 10-for-10 from the free throw line to close out the game.

“It feels good to be in the win column, but our goals right now are to not get too high or stay too low,” Braxton said.

The Red Flash were in a dogfight as the team clawed back to tie the game at 48 on a Mark Flagg and-one at the first media timeout. As the teams continued to fight its way back, the Red Flash took their first lead of the game at 54-53 on a Bryce Laskey 3-pointer from the corner with just over 12 minutes remaining. It was the second of two 3-pointers Laskey made, and it was the last time the lead would change.

“My role on this team is to hit shots and after hitting the first shot, I was free to play the way I wanted too,” Laskey said. “Whenever the shots are going in, defense tends to pick up and get easier. It definitely felt like the team got a lift after I hit those two (three-pointers).”

Lehigh was trying to win its first game in Loretto since 2013, and take back-to-back games against the Red Flash since 2014. Unfortunately, senior Jordan Cohen was unable to do it all himself; a game-high 22 points, 16 in the first half, was not enough.

The Mountain Hawks were also able to get a double-double (18 points, 13 rebounds) from their big-man James Karnik.

The Red Flash are Maryland-Baltimore County on Saturday for a 1 p.m. game.

LEHIGH (3-6): J.Wilson 1-5 0-0 2, Karnik 9-10 0-1 18, Jor.Cohen 8-21 2-3 22, Taylor 3-6 3-4 9, Fenton 5-10 1-2 13, Porter 0-0 0-0 0, Arion 0-3 0-0 0, M.Wilson 2-6 0-0 5. Totals 28-61 6-10 69.

ST. FRANCIS (4-4): Thompson 6-8 0-0 12, Kuzavas 2-3 0-0 4, Blackmon 3-10 1-1 8, Gaskins 1-3 1-2 3, Braxton 4-12 10-10 18, Flagg 3-8 1-2 7, Meredith 2-5 3-3 9, Dixon-Conover 1-1 0-0 2, Laskey 3-6 0-0 8, Stewart 2-7 2-3 6. Totals 27-63 18-21 77.

Halftime–Lehigh 42-36. 3-Point Goals–Lehigh 7-22 (Jor.Cohen 4-8, Fenton 2-5, M.Wilson 1-3, Arion 0-2, J.Wilson 0-2, Taylor 0-2), St. Francis 5-22 (Meredith 2-5, Laskey 2-5, Blackmon 1-4, Thompson 0-1, Stewart 0-1, Gaskins 0-2, Braxton 0-4). Fouled Out–Blackmon. Rebounds–Lehigh 35 (Karnik 13), St. Francis 33 (Braxton 10). Assists–Lehigh 7 (Arion, Jor.Cohen 2), St. Francis 14 (Braxton 9). Total Fouls–Lehigh 17, St. Francis 16. A–915

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