BETHLEHEM, Pa. – Down 61-56 with only 3:25 to go, the Lehigh men’s basketball team responded with 15 of the game’s final 17 points to down Navy, 71-63, on Wednesday evening in Stabler Arena. Sophomore Gabe Knutson posted his first-career double-double with 18 points and 14 rebounds, while C.J. McCollum finished with 23 points and 11 rebounds for his seventh-career double-double and fourth this season. With the win, the Mountain Hawks improve to 10-7 overall, 1-1 in Patriot League play.
"I was proud and pleased we were able to get this victory because it’s such a hard-fought win," said head coach Brett Reed. "It was a slugfest, an extremely physical game. Neither team was able to get into rhythm, particularly due to the [other] team’s defensive intensity."
Knutson helped spearhead an impressive effort on the glass which saw the Mountain Hawks out-rebound the Midshipmen, 56-39. The 56 rebounds marked the first time Lehigh has eclipsed 50 boards since Dec. 28, 2008 when it had 54 against Longwood. In total, Knutson finished with a career-high 14 rebounds to go along with 18 points on 7-of-13 shooting.
McCollum ended the night only six shy of 1,000 career points as he’ll enter Saturday’s game vs. Army at 994. The double-double marks his first since Dec. 4 against Fordham, while it’s his fourth double-double at Stabler Arena this season in only seven home games.
The Mountain Hawks jumped out to a 34-31 halftime lead, but Navy stormed back and eventually went up by as many as five (61-56) with 3:25 to go. But that’s when Lehigh responded with a layup from freshman Mackey McKnight followed by a steal and three-point play from McCollum to even the score at 61 with 1:59 on the clock.
Senior Michael Ojo followed only 23 seconds later with a go-ahead three-pointer to make it 64-61 with 1:36 remaining, while sophomore Holden Greiner nailed a trey to give the Mountain Hawks a 67-61 lead with only 36 seconds to go. Ojo then hit two free throws to extend the run to 13-0 and put Lehigh up, 69-61 with only 24 seconds on the clock. Navy hit a pair of free throws to break its drought, but Knutson capped off the evening with an emphatic dunk to the delight of the home crowd.
Ojo finished with eight points, including five during Lehigh’s thrilling run, while McKnight finished with six and Greiner posted five big ones.
A very physical and high-tempo affair began with Lehigh opening up an early lead after two McCollum free throws made it 11-5, with 14:45 remaining. Navy responded with five straight points to pull within one, but the Mountain Hawks re-opened a 15-11 lead behind four straight points from Knutson. The sophomore duo was the story in the early going as they combined to score 14 of Lehigh’s first 15 points, with eight from McCollum and six from Knutson.
The Mountain Hawks extended their lead back to six, 26-20, behind two more McCollum free throws. Navy stormed back, however, with 11 of the next 15 points to take a 31-30 lead with 1:39 remaining, its first since 5-4. McCollum answered with the final four points of the half to give Lehigh a three-point advantage heading into the locker room.
The Midshipmen came out of the locker room with a vengeance, posting a 7-0 run to open up their largest lead of the evening, 38-34 with 17:37 to go. Senior Prentice Small ended Lehigh’s scoring drought, though, with a three-point play only 10 seconds later.
Navy continued to hold the lead over the proceeding minutes until Lehigh used a 7-0 run to turn a 43-39 deficit into a 46-43 lead with 13:38 still to go. Knutson scored four points in that stretch while Ojo netted his first points of the evening behind a made three-pointer.
The teams went back and forth over the ensuing minutes, which saw four ties and five lead changes. It looked like the Midshipmen would start to run away with it, using a 7-0 run of its own to turn a 56-54 Lehigh lead into a 61-56 Navy advantage, but that’s when the Mountain Hawks responded in a big way.
The Mountain Hawks were stuck on 56 point for a full 4:36 before McKnight’s layup sparked the relentless run.
Lehigh finished 35 percent (25-of-71) from the floor and 20 percent (4-of-20) from three-point range, while Navy shot 32 percent (19-of-59) and 37 percent (7-of-19) from long range. Lehigh won the battle of the boards, 56-39, to improve to 7-0 when out-rebounding its opponent.
"To defend our home court is important," said Reed. "We started [Patriot League play] again a very good [American] team on the road, and we were right there at the end. Then we played a difficult Navy team tonight and were able to respond and get the win."
The Mountain Hawks remain home on Saturday to host Army at 7 p.m. before hitting the road for a pair next week, at Colgate on Wednesday and Lafayette on Saturday. 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.