After trailing the entire game, Northern Lehigh nearly had undefeated Salisbury on the ropes Tuesday night in Slatington.
The Bulldogs trimmed a 14-point third-quarter deficit down to three points with just over two minutes to go in the fourth quarter and Salisbury's leading scorer, Lloyd Irons, was playing with four fouls.
But a Tyler Brown foul shot and an Irons basket with 1:07 left put Salisbury back in front by six. The Falcons hit their foul shots down the stretch and took home with a 61-51 Colonial League win.
"We knew coming in that they were a very good team," said Northern Lehigh head coach Jeff Miller. "We had to play a near-flawless game to beat them and we didn't do that, especially in the first half. We forced some shots, made some bad passes. You can't give a good team like that an opportunity to get up 14 points."
It was the Falcons (16-0, 11-0) that played nearly flawless early on. A turnover-free first quarter resulted in a 22-12 lead through eight minutes. Despite a height disadvantage, Salisbury's 6-foot-3 centers Max Simon and Austin Uhl combined for 10 points in the first quarter and 14 points for the game, nearly matching the effort of the Bulldogs' 6-7 Lucas Pierce, who scored a team-high 15 points.
"I think they did a great job," said Salisbury head coach Jason Weaver. "They're giving away a little bit of size and probably some bulk as well. We didn't let Pierce or (Caleb) Johnson dominate us inside. Fourteen points out of those guys against Pierce and Johnson, that's huge."
The only dominant player on the floor was Irons, the likely Colonial League Most Valuable Player. He had game highs in points (17), rebounds (10) and assists (5), helping his team get out in transition.
"He's a very smart, very strong ball player," said Miller. "He creates problems with is size and his strength and his quickness."
Irons had assists on two of the Falcons first three baskets after halftime as they built their biggest lead of the game, 39-25 with 5:57 left in the third quarter.
"I take what they give me," Irons said. "If they give me the basket I'll take it. If they give me the pass, I'll hit the open man."
Miller called a time out and his team began to climb back. The Bulldogs (14-2, 9-2) went on an 8-2 run to end the quarter.
Irons picked up his third foul late in the third quarter and then got hit with another just 50 seconds into the fourth, sending him to the bench for the next 4:36.
Northern Lehigh started the fourth quarter with a 13-8 run, capped by Josh Eden's three-pointer that cut the lead to 49-46 with 2:11 left.
After Bown's hit one of two free throws and Irons scored inside, Salisbury sealed the win and the foul line. Irons hit five of six from the line in the fourth as the team went 18-22 in the game.
"The biggest thing today is we shot 18 for 22 from the free throw line," Weaver said. "That's very unSalisbury-like. We've had games where we've shot under 40 percent. Guys really stepped up at the free throw line."
Both teams appreciated the big game atmosphere.
"They were battling just like we were battling," said Irons. "It was a physical game. We needed that. It's going to help us in playoffs."
Maron 1-6-6-9, Brown 2-1-2-5, Aungst 0-4-4-4, Reichenbach 3-0-0-8, Simon 4-0-0-8, Uhl 3-0-1-6, Irons 5-7-9-17, Bond 2-0-0-4. TOTALS: 20-18-22-61.
George 0-0-0-0, Shupp 1-0-0-2, Dibilio 1-1-1-3, J. Pristash 2-0-0-5, Glose 6-0-1-12, Eden 2-0-0-5, Landsberger 0-0-0-0, Johnson 3-3-6-9, Pierce 6-2-2-15. TOTALS: 21-6-10-51.
Salisbury 22 10 9 20 – 61
No. Lehigh 12 11 10 18 – 51
Three-pointers: S – Reichenbach 2, Maron 1; NL – J. Pristash 1, Eden 1, Pierce 1.