Heading into conference play, the Army West Point Black Knights and the Lafayette Leopards were going in separate directions.
Army scored a massive win over the Monmouth Hawks in their last non-conference game and entered Patriot League play on a high.As for the Leopards, they were coming off a blowout loss at the hands of the USC Trojans before their first conference showdown.
Wednesday night saw the Leopards head to West Point, NY to take on the Black Knights, looking to put an end to their three-game losing streak. With the way their seasons had gone before their first match-up, Army was the clear favourite, at least on paper.
As we have all come to know, anything can happen on the hardwood, which is why the games are played.
Nobody told the Lepoards they were the underdogs, and they used a big first half to lead them to the 76-73 upset victory over Army for their first conference win of the year.
Lafayette opened up the game on an 8-0 run, getting 4 points apiece from Nathaniel Musters and Matt Klinewski, leading to an Army timeout just 2 minutes into the contest.
Army was held off the scoreboard for over 3 minutes, before Jordan Fox connected on a three-pointer at the 16:56 mark to end the drought for the Black Knights.
The Leopards took full control of the game in the opening minutes of the game, and never looked back. They led from start to finish, never letting Army make it a tie-game after it was 0-0.
Lafayette would slowly stretch their lead as the first half wore on, stretching it to double-digits on several occasions. Army would try to keep the game at a respectable margin, but the Leopards seemingly had an answer every time the Black Knights made a push. A jumper from Paulius Zalys at the 2:39 mark gave the Leopards their largest lead of the game, at 15 points.
Tanner Plomb and Kevin Ferguson would cut into the deficit before the break, but the Leopards took a commanding 36-23 lead into the locker room.
In the second half, the Black Knights came out with a sense of urgency that was missing for most of the first half. Army opened on an 18-9 run to cut the deficit to 45-41 with over 13 minutes left to play. The Black Knights scored on four of their first five possessions in the half, including back-to-back three pointers from Plomb to spearhead the run.
Kyle Wilson would bring Army to within 2 points shortly thereafter, but they could never overtake the lead.
The Leopards would bend, but not break. Lafayette was desperately trying to hold off the Black Knights’ comeback, and they were able to weather the storm.
Back-to-back three pointers from Zach Rufer, with the second coming with under 8 minutes to play, pushed their lead back up to 11. A jumper from Zalys shortly thereafter pushed the lead to 63-50.
Having successfully weathered the first wave of the comeback, the Leopards were looking confident.
However, Army wasn’t done, and they still had some fight left in them. They continued to fight down the stretch, and a pair of free throws from Wilson made it a single-point game with under 20 seconds to go.
A foul would put Lindner to the line for the Leopards, looking to ice the game. He made both free throws, and Army couldn’t get anything on their last possession of the game, and the upset was complete.
Lafayette led Army from wire-to-wire, and the Leopards notched their first conference win with a 76-73 decision over the Black Knights.
The Leopards were able to weather the storm in the second half, and used a balanced scoring attack to lead the way. Four different Leopards scored in double-figures on the night, including Paulius Zalys, who came off the bench to score a team-high 17 points to go along with 7 rebounds.
Zach Rufer and Nick Lindner each added 13 points, while Matt Klinewski added 10 points of his own in the win.
Lafayette was able to limit Army’s up-tempo offense throughout the course of the game, holding the Black Knights to 42.6% (26-of-61) shooting from the floor in the game.
One thing remained constant for Army on the night, and that was the production of Tanner Plomb. He scored in double-figures for the 25th straight game, recording 20 points to go along with 5 rebounds and 3 assists. Plomb went 4-of-8 from three point range in the game.
Kyle Wilson scored a game-high 21 points to go along with 3 assists, while Dylan Cox added 12 points of his own in the loss. Big man Kevin Ferguson was held to just 6 points and 6 rebounds in the game.
The win put an end to the three-game losing streak for the Lafayette Leopards (4-10, 1-2), and gave them their first conference win of the season. A win over one of the top contenders in the conference will go a long way for their confidence moving forwards. Lafayette will look to make it two straight wins when they go on the road to take on the Boston Univ. Terriers on Saturday.
As for the Army West Point Black Knights (10-5, 1-2), the loss was their second-straight after winning back-to-back games over Monmouth and Lehigh. Army likes to run their up-tempo offense, but were never able to get it going on Wednesday. The Black Knights will look to bounce back on Saturday when they go on the road to face off against the Loyola (MD) Greyhounds.