BETHLEHEM, Pa. – The Lehigh men’s basketball team rode a balanced team effort to a wire-to-wire 79-61 victory over Saint Francis (Pa.) on Monday evening in Stabler Arena. Led by 20 points from sophomore C.J. McCollum, 13 from senior Michael Ojo and a career-high 12 from junior Jordan Hamilton, the Mountain Hawks (6-5) jumped out to an early lead and never looked back, cruising to their second straight double-digit victory.
"We were able to build an early lead and manage their runs," said head coach Brett Reed, whose squad led by double digits for the final 18:57 of the game. "I was pleased that we still continued to score [consistently]. I would have liked a better interior defense, but managing their runs was key."
Sophomore Gabe Knutson finished two points shy of his first-career double-double as he posted eight points and a career-high 11 rebounds. Knutson and McCollum both eclipsed the 250 career rebound plateau on Monday; Knutson now has 254 while McCollum recorded eight to reach 250.
Hamilton’s 12 points came on a perfect 4-of-4 shooting and 3-of-3 from three-point range. Sophomore Holden Greiner added nine on 4-of-6 shooting in his second consecutive strong performance.
Saint Francis’ Mislav Jukic led all scorers with 21 points on 5-of-6 shooting and 10-of-12 from the free throw line. The game also featured 48 combined fouls and 57 total free throw attempts, creating an extremely choppy pace.
The Mountain Hawks jumped out to the quick 5-0 lead and continued to build on the advantage, opening up a 9-2 lead following a pair of free throws from freshman Mackey McKnight before Saint Francis responded with an 8-2 run to pull within 11-10 with 15:14 to go.
Lehigh went on to score nine straight points, starting with a three-pointer from McCollum, to open a 20-10 advantage with 11:17 on the clock. The Mountain Hawks opened as much as a 30-15 lead with 7:57 to go, but the Red Flash answered right back, posting a 9-2 run capped off by an Umar Shannon layup to make it 32-24 with 4:55 remaining.
The teams traded buckets over the final minutes, as the Mountain Hawks went into the locker room with a 41-31 advantage.
The Red Flash pulled back within eight less than a minute into the second half, but that proved to be the last time they were within single digits. The second of Hamilton’s three treys helped Lehigh regain a 13-point, 48-35 lead with 16:10 to go.
Lehigh continued to build on its advantage, pulling ahead by as many as 62-44 with 9:31 remaining. A jumper from senior Rob Keefer helped the Mountain Hawks regain their 18-point lead, making it 66-48 with 7:26 to go. Saint Francis went on to pull within 12 (69-57) with 4:02 on the clock, but field goals from McCollum and Ojo on consecutive possessions put Lehigh back up 75-59 with 2:20 remaining.
The Mountain Hawks finished 47 percent (27-of-57) from the field and 36 percent (5-of-14) from three-point range. Saint Francis shot 32 percent (20-of-62) and 18 percent (2-of-11) from long range. Lehigh won the rebounding battle, 40-38, half coming from the sophomore duo of Knutson and McCollum.
After a 10-day layoff due to final exams, Lehigh returns to action at Southern California on Dec. 23 before returning to Stabler Arena after the holidays for a matchup against Saint Peter’s on Dec. 29. 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.