Lehigh put on a burst after halftime, led by 13 of Mike Polaha's game-high 20 points, and outscored top-ranked Georgetown by three in the second half today.
Problem was, Lehigh was outscored by 28 the first half, and Georgetown had no trouble holding on for a 68-43 victory in a first-round NCAA tournament game at the East Regional here in the Hartford Civic Center.
Georgetown, the No. 1 seed in this tournament, was led by Reggie Williams and David Wingate, who each scored 14 points. The other three starters also hit double figures before taking a seat on the bench the last eight minutes of the game.
The rest probably will come in handy when Georgetown (31-2) takes its 13-game winning streak into Saturday's noon second-round game here against Temple, which advanced by beating Virginia Tech, 60-57, later this afternoon.
Georgetown's victory was every bit the mismatch everyone expected. The Hoyas took a 39-11 lead by the end of the first half, when Lehigh had more turnovers (12) than points. The Engineers shouldn't feel alone. The Hoyas went ahead of St. John's, 41-9, in the first half of a game in Madison Square Garden three years ago.
Early in the half, Lehigh's 6-foot-7 center, Don Henderson, went a little overboard and called for the ball so he could post up to shoot over all-America Patrick Ewing, who is 7 feet of defensive mean.
Henderson really tried the shot. Ewing didn't even have to jump to block it; he grabbed it with two hands and started a fast break.
Polaha, reliving the moment, couldn't help but laugh in the locker room. "I said, 'Don, kick it back out, baby'; but, hey, he didn't back away."
Henderson said, "I should have. That's one of my favorite shots, though, and I didn't really know he was directly behind me, and when I turned, I saw nothing but The Hand, and I knew it was all over."
Polaha, an expert at getting shots off against taller, more athletic players, ran into the lane a little later and pulled up for a short jumper. Ewing was there to record another of his six blocked shots.
Polaha, who certainly has a career in comedy if not basketball, returned for another bit of play-by-play. "There I go, I beat my man. It's a good move, nice move. I go up and there he is with The Paw, slapping it out to half court to start a fast break. What's a guy to do? I really floated that thing up there, extra high arc. I always score on that back in normal games."
Only this wasn't a normal game for Lehigh (12-19). This was a game against the top-ranked team in the nation. Several of the Engineers, including forward Paul Wickman, admitted they were "in awe" at the beginning. Lehigh's 22 percent shooting probably reflected that. And Polaha said, "I was a little worried about making into double figures for a while."
The Hoyas were ahead, 37-9, following a jumper by Billy Martin, when Polaha sank a jumper with 3:10 left in the half to get Lehigh into double digits.
But the Engineers played better in the second half, partly because the severe jitters probably passed, partly because Georgetown Coach John Thompson removed his starters.
The Hoyas did have trouble concentrating. Thompson said he had to remind them "about 100 times" to keep their minds on what they were doing, especially some of the team's support principles on defense.
Lehigh Coach Tom Schneider, upset with his team's play the first half, told his players at intermission, "It's time to play."
Queenan, who scored 13 points but made only two of 12 field goals, said his team tried to play "the perfect game the first half, but once the score got a little out of hand, we didn't have anything to lose and played looser."
Polaha, who made nine of 17 shots for the game, was especially effective. He got off several shots by leaning in under defenders, in effect making them overpursue.
"I'd take him. He's a very fine player," Thompson said.
"Polaha did a great job of getting off his shots and keeping our guards in foul trouble," Georgetown's David Wingate said. (Horace Broadnax and Michael Jackson each had four fouls.)
The 9,000 or so who attended the first game were delighted with Lehigh outscoring the Hoyas, 32-29, for the second half, and with Polaha.
Even Thompson said, "Had I been in the stands, I would have rooted for Lehigh . . . .
"I told the kids that if (Lehigh) was tied with us after five or 10 minutes, we'd have been in rouble. People would root like hell for them. I'm not certain some Georgetown fans wouldn't root for them."
Thompson was being as gracious as possible in a no-win situation, until questions kept popping up about Georgetown's lack of concentration in the second half.
"How much did we win by?" Thompson said testily. "Hell, if I'd left my starters in, we'd have won by 50."
Lehigh's players probably realized that. Ewing (11 points, four rebounds) played only 28 minutes and didn't even attempt a dunk. "It was very difficult to get as close to the basket as usual because their players are so small and they would get underneath me," Ewing said. "I couldn't go to the offensive boards; they were always under my legs . . . ."
So Lehigh left with what Polaha called "some well-needed respect" from its second-half performance -- "Let's do it again next year," he said. And Georgetown left to prepare for Temple (25-5), a team that upset St. John's in a first-round game exactly a year ago.