Posted: January 2, 2010
BETHLEHEM, Pa. – Freshman Gabe Knutson scored a season-high 23 points, while classmate C.J. McCollum added 18 and Lehigh held off NJIT 86-79 on Saturday evening at Stabler Arena. The win is Lehigh’s fourth straight as the Mountain Hawks improve to 8-6 overall, while the Highlanders fall to 5-9 following the setback. Lehigh senior captain Marquis Hall also totaled six assists in the victory as he moves into first place in school history with 454 career helpers.
Lehigh wound up shooting 47% from the floor for the game with senior Zahir Carrington joining Knutson and McCollum in double figures with ten points. McCollum led the Mountain Hawks with seven rebounds as they dominated NJIT on the glass, pulling 44 rebounds to the Highlanders’ 29. Lehigh also got to the foul line 40 times on Saturday and sank 31 attempts led by McCollum who was a perfect eight-of-eight. Saturday’s game marked the third straight in which Lehigh trailed at halftime but came back to earn the win.
Jheryl Wilson scored a game-high 27 points for the visitors, while Isaiah Wilkerson sank 14 foul shots en route to 22 points. That pair also led the Highlanders in rebounds with five each and Wilkerson handed out a team-high five assists. NJIT shot 41% from the field and sank nine three-pointers on the night, and as a team the Highlanders turned the ball over only seven times.
“NJIT came out very strong tonight and forced us to play catch-up,” Lehigh head coach Brett Reed explained. “We made a nice run in the second half to take the lead, but we lost focus down the stretch and allowed NJIT to come back into the game.” He continued, “It was certainly much closer than we wanted it to be, but that was a good test for our guys as we continue to learn how to play with the lead and put teams away.”
Reed concluded, “I thought we did a nice job of getting to the foul line and making our free throws and we did a great job of feeding the ball into the post where Gabe played one heck of a game for us.”
Knutson spoke of his career night afterwards. “A few times I was matched up with a smaller guy and fortunately my teammates found me. Zahir and I had good chemistry working tonight. We were able to get the high-low working and obviously the biggest thing is we got another win.”
The first half was tight throughout with Lehigh opening a 10-7 lead on Knutson’s lay-up with 15:10 on the clock. Seven straight by the visitors however, capped off by Wilson’s bucket at the 12:58 mark propelled NJIT into the lead at 14-10. Lehigh tied things at 14 when Holden Greiner got inside for a basket but Wilson came right back and hit another jumper for the Highlanders to put them on top, 16-14. A Knutson basket with 8:19 to go tied things at 21, while Rob Keefer’s basket on Lehigh’s next possession gave the Brown and White a 23-21 advantage. A three-pointer by senior captain Matt Shamis put Lehigh up five, 28-23, but eight straight by the visitors gave NJIT a three-point advantage, at 31-28.
Lehigh went back in front when Carrington slammed home two points and then sank two foul shots to make the score 34-31 with 2:46 to go before halftime. But Wilson hit a lay-up and Isaiah Wilkerson hit two foul shots as NJIT regained the lead at 35-34. Hall put Lehigh on top by one with yet another pair of free throws but Wilkerson put up an acrobatic shot just before the buzzer that found the bottom of the net and the Highlanders took a 37-36 lead into halftime.
Lehigh shot 50% from the floor in the opening 20 minutes and was led by Knutson’s eight points, while Carrington added seven. Carrington, Buchberger and Ojo grabbed three rebounds apiece and Ojo led the Mountain Hawks with a career-high six assists. Lehigh took care of the ball and turned it over only five times and the Mountain Hawks sank six of their nine free throw attempts.
Wilson was nearly unstoppable in the half, hitting 8-of-14 shots en route to 18 points, while Wilkerson and Sammy Schickel added eight apiece. NJIT shot 42% for the half, but only grabbed 14 rebounds, led by Ryan Fegis with three. Wilkerson handed out a team best five assists and the Highlanders turned the ball over just once in the half.
A three by Wilson 1:29 into the second half put NJIT up four but Lehigh scored the game’s next 15 points to soar in front 51-40 with 13:11 on the clock. The lead grew to 14 on a Knutson jumper with 12:01 left, and the lead was again 14 after a pair at the line by Knutson with 9:47 to go. With the Mountain Hawks ahead 67-54 with 8:09 to go NJIT began to make things interesting as the Highlanders went on a 14-6 run to get within four with 3:39 on the clock. Wilkerson then hit a free throw for the visitors and the score was 72-69 with only 2:32 left.
The Mountain Hawks sank 11 free throws in the final 1:43 however and were able to hang on as they improve to 5-1 at Stabler Arena this season.
Mountain Hawks Basketball Post-Game Extra with Matt Kerr and Greg Falkenbach '72
Lehigh closes out its non-league schedule on Tuesday evening when the Mountain Hawks play host to the Yale Bulldogs at Stabler Arena. Tip-off is set for 7:05 and tickets may be purchased by calling 610-7LU-GAME, by logging onto Lehighsports.com or at the arena box office prior to tip-off.