BETHLEHEM, Pa. – Sophomore C.J. McCollum hit a clutch three-pointer with just over a minute remaining to put the Mountain Hawks up for good as the Lehigh men’s basketball team (2-2) pulled out a thrilling 60-57 victory over defending Ivy League Champion and Sweet 16 participant Cornell on Monday. McCollum finished with his fifth-career double-double and second in as many home games, while senior Michael Ojo chipped in with 11 points, including nine in the second half.
"This is a good win for us," said head coach Brett Reed. "Cornell still has a great identity from its postseason run a year ago. Tonight was a testament to our defensive intensity, forcing turnovers and playing with energy. If we play with the defensive intensity we need to, it will put us in good position to close out tight games, even when our offense is not performing."
The Mountain Hawks forced 21 turnovers, the team’s most since forcing 26 on Dec. 11, 2006 against Haverford.
"Our focus in the first half was excellent with our defensive intensity and defending the three," said Reed. "We were a little complacent with defending the three early in the second half. We were very stagnant on offense and a little reluctant to move the basketball. We continued to force it [too much]."
McCollum’s double-double came on 20 rebounds and a career-high tying 13 rebounds, with an incredible six of those boards via the offensive glass. Junior Jordan Hamilton impressed with nine points to tie a career-high while freshman Mackey McKnight added six to go with a team-high three assists.
The win also improved Lehigh’s home winning streak to eight games dating back to last season.
Lehigh used a balanced offensive attack - with five different players scoring over the game’s first 8:03 - to go up by nine (14-5) with 11:57 on the clock. The Mountain Hawks extended their lead to as much as 20-9, which included freshman Anthony D’Orazio hitting a jumper to become the sixth Lehigh player to get on the board.
Cornell used a quick 9-0 run on a trio of three-pointers, taking only 2:29 to trim an 11-point Lehigh lead to 20-18 with 6:23 on the first half clock. The Mountain Hawks bounced back, however, to extend their lead back to 30-23 at the half.
The Big Red came out of the locker room with eight of the next 10 points to pull within 32-31 less than two minutes into the second half. The Mountain Hawks again pulled ahead by seven after Ojo’s first three-pointer of the night made it 40-33 with 16:51 to go.
Cornell made one last charge and staged a 15-3 run to eventually pull ahead by as much as five (48-43) with 10:34 left on the clock. Both teams went scoreless for the next 2:49 before junior Justin Maneri, who saw key minutes off the bench, hit two free throws to pull within three.
McCollum hit his first big three-pointer - and first trifecta of the season - with 7:22 remaining to tie the score at 48. That sparked the Mountain Hawks as they pulled back ahead by as much as three, a lead they would hold onto down the stretch. McCollum’s second three-pointer from the top of the key with only 1:03 left on the clock broke a 53-53 tie to put Lehigh up for good.
"It’s extra effort to get the offensive rebounds, which makes [C.J.] a unique scorer," said Reed. "You look down at the stat sheet and wonder how he gets all his points. He has the ability to score in so many ways, which makes him so effective."
Lehigh won despite only shooting 30 percent (16-for-53) from the field and 26 percent (5-for-19) from three-point range. Cornell finished at 35 percent (19-for-54) and 40 percent (10-for-25) from long range. The Mountain Hawks also got to the line 30 times, hitting on 23 of them.
Lehigh hits the road on Friday to face defending Mid-American Regular Season Champion Kent State before returning home on Sunday to host Bryant University 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.