WASHINGTON, D.C. – Despite holding a 30-27 halftime advantage, American stormed back in the second to down the Lehigh men’s basketball team, 82-75, in the Patriot League opener on Saturday afternoon. A battle of the last three Patriot League champions wouldn’t disappoint, with the game seeing eight ties and seven lead changes, with the majority coming in the second half. The loss snaps Lehigh’s three-game winning streak as it falls to 9-7 overall and 0-1 in league play.
"We were right there at the end of the game," said head coach Brett Reed. "If we make a stop that last possession, we’d have a shot to tie the game. On the road against a very good team who shot very well, we were right there."
A battle of the league’s top two scorers saw each go off for over 30. Sophomore C.J. McCollum finished with 32, already his fourth 30+ point scoring game of the season while American senior Vlad Moldoveanu countered with 39 on an incredible 13-of-18 shooting.
"Our game plan coming into this game was to slow down Vlad and make someone else beat us," said Reed. "We failed to execute that game plan. I don’t know if there’s anyone else in the league with that combination of skill and size."
Freshman Mackey McKnight and sophomore Holden Greiner each added 11, which included 4-of-6 shooting for Greiner and 3-of-4 from behind the three-point line. Sophomore Gabe Knutson also finished with six to reach exactly 500 points for his young career.
A low scoring first half saw only 57 total points scored, while the second saw exactly 100, 55 for American to 45 for Lehigh.
The teams struggled offensively in the early going, combining for only nine points over the first 4:41. After a number of empty possessions, Lehigh got the scoring started with 18:18 to go behind a McCollum made jumper.
McCollum then hit a pull-up three-pointer to help Lehigh regain a 7-5 lead, with 15:19 to go. The defensive battle continued with the teams combining for only five points over the next three minutes, which included two more points from McCollum who wound up with nine of Lehigh’s first 11 points.
With the Mountain Hawks up, 11-8, American responded with a mini 5-0 run to go up, 13-11 with 9:45 on the clock. Freshman Anthony D’Orazio responded by hitting a wide open three-pointer to give Lehigh the 14-13 advantage.
A back and forth affair saw the teams trade baskets over the proceeding minutes. With 5:33 remaining, senior David Safstrom gave Lehigh a 21-19 lead behind a thunderous one-handed dunk off a missed shot. Just over a minute later, McKnight broke a 21-21 deadlock with a three-pointer to give the Mountain Hawks a 24-21 advantage.
Lehigh used a mini run to open up its largest lead of the game, 27-23, with 3:24 on the clock. American answered right back with four straight points to even the score at 27, but the Mountain Hawks followed with three points in the final eight seconds to stun the home crowd. After McKnight hit one-of-two free throws, he followed with a steal at center court, setting up D’Orazio for a wide open jumper in the corner. The freshman knocked it down with time expiring for a 30-27 lead heading to the locker room.
McCollum began the second half with a steal and fast break layup, while also getting fouled for the three-point play. Senior Michael Ojo hit two free throws with 18:01 on the clock to open up Lehigh’s largest lead of the game, 35-29.
American responded, however, with an 8-2 run to even the score at 37. Troy Brewer’s dunk and ensuing layup evened the score, forcing Reed to call timeout.
Lehigh used four straight points to go up, 41-37, with 14:20 on the clock, but the Eagles responded and took their first lead since the first half when Moldoveanu hit a three-pointer to put them up, 50-47 with 12:18 remaining.
McCollum and the Mountain Hawks continued to fight back as the sophomore sensation scored five points in the next 52 seconds to pull within 56-54, but the Eagles had an answer.
American used a 9-1 run to open a 65-55 lead with 8:34 to go, but Lehigh came back with seven straight to pull within three. McCollum finished his fourth three-point play opportunity, then Knutson made the steal at center court and went all the way to pull within 65-60. He then finished a post move to pull within 65-62 with 6:17 remaining.
Greiner pulled Lehigh within 67-65 with a three-pointer at the top of the key, but American came back with a mini 5-0 run to extend its lead back to seven at 72-65 with 4:16 remaining.
A McKnight three-point play pulled the Mountain Hawks within 74-70 with 2:47 to go, while a Greiner three pulled Lehigh within 76-73 with 2:25 on the clock.
Within five in the final minute, Lehigh forced a stop, but Charles Hinkle grabbed the offensive rebound and hit the ensuing layup to give American a 78-73 lead with just under a minute remaining. But McCollum answered with a basket on the other end to again pull within three, 78-75 with 49 seconds on the clock.
Moldoveanu hit a tough fade-away jumper from the corner with McCollum all over him to put the Eagles back up, 80-75 with 21 seconds remaining, to effectively put the game away. Moldoveanu then hit two free throws with 12 seconds on the clock to ice the 82-75 final.
Lehigh shot 43 percent (23-of-54) on the afternoon, 38 percent (6-of-16) from three-point range while American finished at 49 percent (26-of-53) and 31 percent (5-of-16) from long range. The Eagles won the battle of the boards, 44-24.
The Mountain Hawks return home on Wednesday to host Navy at 7 p.m. before welcoming Army next Saturday evening. 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.