HAMDEN, Conn. – The Lehigh men’s basketball team fought back from multiple deficits to take a 73-72 lead with 1:56 remaining, but Quinnipiac responded with 12 of the game’s final 17 points to down the Mountain Hawks (4-5), 84-78, in yet another nailbiter on Tuesday evening. Freshman Mackey McKnight finished with a career-high in points (24) and assists (7) to spearhead the Mountain Hawk attack. Four of Lehigh’s last six games have stood within a single possession with less than a minute to go.
The story of the game was Quinnipiac’s rebounding. A squad which entered with 74 more rebounds than its opponents outrebounded the Mountain Hawks, 60-34, led by 14 from Dominique Langston.
“Our defense was pretty solid at time, but we were unable to secure possession with the rebound,” said head coach Brett Reed. “They were playing at a different level than we were with their height.”
McKnight, who was one of four Lehigh players in double figures, was the story from the get-go, starting the Mountain Hawks’ scoring just over a minute into the game, while keeping Lehigh close with clutch free throw after clutch free throw down the stretch. He finished the evening 13-of-15 from the charity stripe.
“Mackey did well; he was aggressive in utilizing the pick and roll, which led to quality shots,” said Reed. “You’re looking at double figures in assists if we were able to convert more opportunities. It’s definitely a bright spot for a young player who was a little inconsistent coming in.”
Sophomore C.J. McCollum and senior Michael Ojo chipped in with 15 points apiece while sophomore Gabe Knutson finished with 13.
Quinnipiac, which entered the game shooting only 59 percent from the free throw line, hit 18-of-25 (72 percent) on the evening, including clutch free throws down the stretch. Justin Rutty enjoyed a strong game with 27 points, including a perfect 11-of-11 from the line, this from a 36 percent free throw shooter entering the game.
“It was difficult that he capitalized at the free throw line like he did,” said Reed. “If he shot anywhere near his percentage, there would have been many points off the board. Once you see the ball goes in, it builds confidence [to continue hitting the free throws].”
An extremely physical first half saw 24 total fouls called, including 15 on the Bobcats. Quinnipiac also outrebounded Lehigh, 35-17, for 20 second-chance points for a 43-37 advantage at the break.
McKnight began a great half, which included 13 points and four assists, by scoring his first of two old-fashioned three-point plays with 18:18 remaining in the first half. He later added a second less than four minutes later to make it 14-8 in favor of the Mountain Hawks.
An Ojo layup gave Lehigh a 16-10 lead with 13:27 to go, but Quinnipiac responded by outscoring the Mountain Hawks, 22-8 over the next 6:31 to open up its largest lead of the first half, 32-24 with 6:56 to go.
The Mountain Hawks continued to claw back as Knutson capped off a beautiful fast break with an emphatic right-hand slam off a beautiful bounce pass from McKnight, pulling Lehigh within 37-34 with 3:10 to go in the half.
Quinnipiac had possession, holding for a final shot, when McKnight made his second steal of the half and went coast-to-coast, where he was fouled with 16 seconds on the clock. He hit both free throws, and the Bobcats’ last-second shot was off the mark, giving Lehigh momentum heading into the locker room.
McKnight continued the momentum into the second half as his third three-point play of the evening with 16:57 to go pulled Lehigh within 49-47. McCollum then hit a three-pointer from the corner off a nifty feed from McKnight to give the Mountain Hawks a 50-49 advantage with 16:34 to go, their first lead since 17-16.
With the score tied at 57, the Bobcats staged a 10-0 run, which started with two straight three-point plays from Rutty, and capped off by a William Harrison layup, to make it 67-57 with 7:08 on the clock. The Mountain Hawks stormed right back with a 13-3 run, which included five straight points from McKnight, to tie the score at 70 with only 2:41 to go. The run was capped off by another emphatic dunk from Knutson, who finished a nice feed from McCollum.
McCollum gave Lehigh a brief 73-72 lead with a long three-pointer, but Quinnipiac’s James Johnson answered right back with a trey only 20 seconds later to give the Bobcats a 75-73 lead with 1:36 go. It was a lead Quinnipiac wouldn’t relinquish as it hit its free throws down the stretch to preserve the victory.
Lehigh finished the evening 35 percent (22-of-63) from the field and 33 percent (6-of-18) from three-point range while Quinnipiac shot 43 percent (31-for-73) and 31 percent (4-of-13) from long range. Despite getting outrebounded 60-34, the Mountain Hawks hung tough behind 28 made free throws (in 41 attempts) to only 18 for Quinnipiac (in 25 chances).
“Quinnipiac is a very good team and they proved it tonight,” said Reed. “We’re pleased that we were right there, but just need to finish the possessions. We’ll have to transition to playing a Marist team [on Friday] which plays a different, smaller style of basketball.”
The Mountain Hawks continue their road swing at Marist on Friday before returning to Stabler Arena to host Saint Francis (Pa.) on Dec. 13 in their final game in 10 days. 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.