BETHLEHEM, Pa. – Trailing 35-30 late in the first half, the Lehigh men’s basketball team went into the locker room on a 12-0 run before outscoring Bryant by 13 in the second half on its way to a convincing 88-68 win on Sunday evening inside Stabler Arena. The Mountain Hawks (3-3) were led by four players in double figure scoring, including sophomores C.J. McCollum and Gabe Knutson who finished with 27 and 22 points, respectively.
"The tone of the game changed when we picked up our defensive intensity," said head coach Brett Reed. "We forced turnovers which changed our offense. Today, our players had focus, brought the energy and answered the challenges presented to them during the game."
The story was the sophomore duo, as McCollum posted 27 points two days after dropping a career-high 42 on Kent State. Knutson finished with his third-career 20 point game behind an incredible 10-of-12 shooting and a perfect 7-of-7 in the second half. He also grabbed a team-high eight rebounds.
Senior Michael Ojo was stellar as well with 14 points and six assists to tie a career-high, while freshman Mackey McKnight had 10, along with six assists for a second straight game.
"It’s really important to understand how well Bryant has been playing," said Reed. "They’re playing some really good basketball their last three games, beating a very solid Iona team, while hanging tough against Army and nearly beating Harvard. It took us playing with extended focus and energy [to start gaining control of the game]."
The win also extended Lehigh’s home winning streak to nine games dating back to last season.
An Ojo three-pointer in the early going propelled Lehigh up, 17-9 with 12:35 to go in the first half. The Bulldogs responded with a 9-0 run over the next 1:50 to take an 18-17 advantage with 10:45 still on the clock.
Bryant opened up as much as a five-point lead at 35-30 with 3:07 remaining before the Mountain Hawks staged a furious 12-0 rally to close the first half with a 42-35 advantage. Ojo got the crowd to its feet in the final possession, making a steal at the top of the key before going all the way for the emphatic dunk before time expired.
Lehigh continued the momentum into the second half, but not before Bryant pulled back to within 43-40 following a three-pointer from Dobbs with 18:08 on the clock. The Mountain Hawks bounced right back, however, with a 14-2 run over the next 3:05 to up their lead to 15 (57-42). McCollum scored seven straight points in that stretch behind a three-pointer, two free throws, and layup.
The Bulldogs used three straight baskets to again pull within single digits at 57-48, but the Mountain Hawks continued to build their lead. The margined reached 20 late in the second half, led by seven straight points from Knutson, all coming in the span of 58 seconds to put Lehigh up, 86-64, with 2:20 to go.
Sophomore Holden Greiner made two free throws to extend the lead to its largest at 24, but Bryant responded with four points over the final minute to pull within 88-68 at the final horn.
The Mountain Hawks finished 54 percent (32-for-59) from the field and 35 percent (6-for-17) from three-point range while the Bulldogs shot 46 percent (25-for-54) and 33 percent (5-for-15) from behind the arc. Lehigh won the rebounding battle, 32-30. It marked the first time the Mountain Hawks have shot 50 percent or better from the field since last Feb. 24 against Bucknell.
The Mountain Hawks travel to defending America East Champion Stony Brook on Wednesday before returning home to host Atlantic 10 foe Fordham in a Saturday evening showdown at Stabler. 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.