BETHLEHEM, Pa. – Sophomore C.J. McCollum posted his fourth-career double-double behind 20 points and 11 rebounds, as the Lehigh men’s basketball team opened its home schedule with a 73-57 win over Wagner on Monday evening. The victory extends the Mountain Hawks’ home winning streak to seven games dating back to last season.
"It was a good test for us tonight playing against a Wagner team who is very intense and plays strong, aggressive defense," said head coach Brett Reed. "We were fortunate to be able to capitalize on that and get to the free throw line and make some shots. That, plus getting some points in the paint as well [was a big difference]."
A high-scoring first half saw the Mountain Hawks take a 40-35 lead into the locker room, but they responded on the defensive end over the final 20 minutes, holding Wagner to only 22 points, while scoring 33 themselves.
McCollum led the way with a game-high 20 points, his 18th career game of 20 or more points. He shot 6-for-15 from the field and a perfect 8-for-8 from the free throw line. He also grabbed 11 rebounds for his fourth-career double-double. Sophomore Gabe Knutson posted 13 points and nine rebounds, while senior Rob Keefer chipped in with 10 on a perfect 3-of-3 shooting and 4-of-4 from the free throw line. Sophomore Holden Greiner finished with nine, all coming in the first half.
"It was an excellent win against an aggressive team which forces its identity on the game with its defensive pressure and intensity," said Reed. "We played in spurts, losing focus defensively, but regaining it in the second half."
Lehigh jumped out to a quick 8-2 lead, but a relentless Seahawks’ squad responded with a 6-0 run to even the score at eight. The Mountain Hawks retook a 12-8 lead, but Wagner scored nine of the next 11 points to take a 17-14 advantage with 13:57 to go in the first half.
The back-and-forth game continued as Danny Mundweiler hit a three-pointer to give the Seahawks their largest lead at 26-20. Lehigh came right back with a 12-0 run capped off by a McCollum layup to make it 32-26 with 4:41 still remaining. The Mountain Hawks opened their lead to as much as 38-30 following a Greiner three-pointer before heading to the locker room up, 40-35.
The Mountain Hawks increased the defensive pressure in the second half, not allowing a point for the first 3:10. Lehigh’s offense built its lead to 11 following a McCollum jumper, but Wagner wouldn’t quit. The Seahawks pulled to within five at 49-44 with 14:10 to go, but Lehigh rebuilt (and extended) its double-digit advantage to 68-53 with only 5:12 remaining, its largest lead of the game.
Lehigh’s defense bore down to only allow four points over the game’s final 7:05, including one stretch of 6:20 in which it allowed only a single point.
"We issued a challenge to our guys at halftime to make sure they play more solid defense," said Reed. "The fact that we held them to 22 points in the second half and only allowed them to shoot 28 percent from the floor was really critical."
The Mountain Hawks shot 50 percent (21-for-42) from the field, but only 17 percent (1-for-6) from three-point range. Wagner finished at 36 percent (18-for-50), including 41 percent (9-for-22) from long range. Lehigh dominated the battle of the boards to finish with 43, its most in 10 games dating back to last Feb. 10 against Navy. The game also featured 52 fouls – 31 on Wagner and 21 on Lehigh.
Lehigh now looks ahead to a trip to Monmouth on Friday before hosting defending Ivy League Champion and Sweet 16 participant Cornell on Nov. 22 at 7 p.m. Tickets for all home games are now on sale and may be purchased on Lehighsports.com or by calling the ticket office at (610) 7LU-GAME.