STONY BROOK, N.Y. – Down by as many as 14 midway through the second half, the Lehigh men’s basketball team staged a spirited comeback to force overtime before overtaking Stony Brook with 35 seconds remaining for a 79-76 victory on Wednesday evening. Sophomore C.J. McCollum gave Lehigh a lead it wouldn’t relinquish with 35 seconds to go in the extra session. McCollum finished with 31 points – his fourth straight game of 20 or more and third straight of at least 27.
“It was one of those situations where we had a gut check [midway through the second half],” said head coach Brett Reed. “In a key moment, we got ourselves right back in the game. As we look at the players, it’s important for us to establish the confidence from here.”
Despite early foul trouble, McCollum led the way with his 31 points off 10-of-19 shooting, while sophomore Gabe Knutson had 16 and senior Michael Ojo added 11. Bryan Dougher led the Seawolves with 26 points.
Trailing by eight at the half, the Mountain Hawks (4-3) came out of the locker room on fire, staging a 7-0 run after Stony Brook built its advantage to 40-30. That pulled them within 40-37 with 18:35 remaining. McCollum found Knutson all alone on the fast break for the easy slam to pull within three for the first time since early in the first half.
A Knutson layup pulled Lehigh within 42-41 with 16:25 to go, but the offense struggled in scoring only four points over the next 6:58 to go back into a 59-45 hole.
Lehigh responded, though, with three field goals in just under a minute to quickly trim Stony Brook’s advantage to 59-51 with 8:27 left on the clock. Two of them came on fastbreak layups, from Ojo and freshman Mackey McKnight, who beat the defense down the floor for the easy conversions.
Marcus Rouse hit a three-pointer to put Stony Brook up, 62-51, but that’s when McCollum took over, scoring six straight Lehigh points nine of its next 10 to pull Lehigh within 64-62 with 3:42 to go.
McCollum evened the score at 66 behind a pair of free throws with 1:42 left in regulation, which would prove to be the final scoring of regulation.
Senior David Safstrom broke a drought of 3:57 with neither team scoring as he snagged a big offensive rebound off and putback to make it 68-66 Lehigh, but Danny Carter answered with a three-pointer on the other end to put Stony Brook back on top.
The Seawolves used a four-point possession to take a 73-70 lead, but Ojo hit a huge three-pointer with 1:01 remaining to even the score at 73. Then, it was McCollum who hit a short jumper with 35 seconds remaining for a 75-73 advantage. Stony Brook had chances to tie the score, including a long bank shot from Dougher, which was originally called a game-tying three-pointer, but after reviewing the monitor, the referees ruled it a two, preserving Lehigh’s one-point advantage.
McKnight hit two big free throws with four seconds remaining to give Lehigh a 79-76 advantage, which stood as the final.
Lehigh took an early 7-4 lead in the first half behind a three-pointer from Ojo and a pair of layups from Knutson. Stony Brook answered right back, however, with 19 of the next 24 points to take a 23-12 advantage with 9:26 to go in the first half.
The Mountain Hawks did pull within 29-25 following a three-point play from McCollum with 4:31 to go, but the Seawolves used field goals on three consecutive possessions to open up a 35-25 advantage with 2:08 remaining.
Down by 10 late in the first half, McCollum did hit a jumper with time winding down to trim a 10-point Seawolves’ margin to eight (38-30) at the half.
Lehigh shot 45 percent (27-for-60) for the game, 33 percent (7-for-21) behind three-point range. Stony Brook finished at 41 percent (28-for-69) and 40 percent (8-for-20) from long range. The Mountain Hawks won the battle of the boards, 42-36.
“This team at this stage is really growing and forming,” said Reed. “We’re identifying the personnel that will help us contribute and creating an identity for ourselves. To be able to come out in the early stage and win against a quality opponent on the road allows us to see where our focus needs to be. And obviously, building confidence as we continue to progress throughout the rigors of the season.”
The Mountain Hawks return home on Saturday to host Atlantic 10 foe Fordham in a Saturday evening showdown at Stabler. They then hit the road for two games next week, at Quinnipiac on Tuesday and at Marist on Friday. 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.