EASTON, Pa. – All five starters scored in double figures while the Lehigh defense posted one of its best performances of the season to top Lafayette, 79-62, on Saturday afternoon at Kirby Sports Center. Sophomore C.J. McCollum led the charge with his eighth-career double-double behind 23 points and a career-high 14 rebounds. The win snaps a two-game losing skid as the Mountain Hawks improve to 11-9 on the season, 2-3 in Patriot League play.
With the win, Lehigh improves to 10-1 across all sports against Lafayette during the 2010-11 school year.
"We struggled defensively over the past few games, but we were a few possessions from being 4-0," said head coach Brett Reed. "We have enough offensive talent to put points on the board, but if we defend the way we did today, it totally changes the complexion of the team."
McCollum was the story in the early going, posting his double-double less than 18 minutes into the game as his 10th board came with 2:26 left in the first half. The 23 points marked his fifth 20+ point scoring effort in as many games, as he’s netted 126 points in that span.
Sophomores Holden Greiner and Gabe Knutson each posted 14 points while senior Michael Ojo had 11 and freshman Mackey McKnight recorded 10. It marked the first time since Nov. 29, 2006 against Swarthmore that five Mountain Hawks finished in double figures.
"Anybody can step up on any given day," said McCollum. "We played as a unit today. We told ourselves to not think about offense; that will come. Just focus on defense and the rest will fall into place."
Freshman Kevin McCarthy was stellar off the bench, posting a career-high seven points in only 10 minutes of action. That included a perfect 1-of-1 from the field while also hitting 5-of-6 free throws.
The Mountain Hawks won the rebounding battle, 42-35, and improve to 8-0 when they out-rebound their opponent. Greiner enjoyed a second straight stellar game on the glass with eight rebounds, one game after bringing down nine.
The Lehigh defense allowed only 22 first-half points while holding Lafayette to 34 percent shooting for the game, and 25 percent from three-point range. The Mountain Hawks held preseason All-Patriot League honoree Jared Mintz to 14 points, two below his season average, while no other Leopards player finished with more than 10.
A first half of runs began with an Ojo three-pointer after the Mountain Hawks denied Lafayette on its first possession.
The Leopards responded with four straight points, but Lehigh came back in a big way, staging a 11-2 run over the next 4:11 to open up a 14-6 lead. McKnight got it started with a nice dish to Knutson on a fast break for a 5-4 advantage. McCollum then finished a three-point play to put Lehigh up, 8-4.
The Mountain Hawks continued the momentum, and the run, capping it off with three-pointers on back to back possessions by McKnight and Ojo for the eight-point lead with 13:12 to go in the first half.
The run extended to 14-4 as a Knutson fast break layup gave Lehigh its first double-digit lead of the afternoon, 18-8, with 11:33 on the clock.
Lafayette broke a 3:38 scoreless drought and went on to stage a 13-3 run, which included three-pointers on three straight possessions by Nick Petkovich, forcing Reed to call timeout. That pulled the Leopards within 21-19 with 7:08 still to go in the half.
Lehigh responded out of the timeout with a 10-0 run over the next 3:19. McCollum netted five consecutive points, starting with a nice driving layup before hitting a pull-up three-pointer to shift momentum right back in the Mountain Hawks’ favor. The run continued with a Greiner layup off a nice feed from McCarthy, then another three-pointer from McCollum to put the squad up, 31-19 with 3:49 to go.
The Leopards answered with a pair of free throws, but McKnight found Knutson on a fast break for the thunderous slam to give Lehigh a 33-25 lead with 2:59 to go, forcing Lafayette to use a timeout.
The Mountain Hawks scored the first four points of the second half, as a Knutson bank shot gave Lehigh its largest lead of the game, 39-22, with 18:54 on the clock.
Up 41-25, The Mountain Hawks went into an offensive drought, not scoring for 5:22 which allowed Lafayette to score seven unanswered to pull within 41-32 following a Mintz free throw.
Greiner broke the drought with a pair of free throws with 12:11 to go to help Lehigh regain its double digit lead again, 43-32. McCarthy then scored four straight Lehigh points midway through the half to help Lehigh open a 49-38 advantage with 10:08 to go.
Lafayette continued to hang tough, pulling within single digits on six occasions over the proceeding minutes, but McKnight stepped up to knock down some big shots to end any momentum. His three-pointer with 8:00 remaining gave the Mountain Hawks a 56-44 lead, while he hit a foul-line jumper with 6:03 to go, putting Lehigh ahead, 59-49. McCollum followed less than a minute later with his third three-pointer of the afternoon to put the Mountain Hawks back on top, 62-49.
The momentum continued from there as McCollum’s fourth three-pointer put Lehigh up, 65-41 with 4:40 remaining and a Greiner tip-in made it 69-53 with 3:16 on the clock.
With just under two minutes remaining, Lehigh hit six straight free throws to help preserve the double-digit lead and another Greiner layup accounted for the 79-62 advantage, which stood as the final.
The Mountain Hawks finished 42 percent (25-of-59) from the field and 43 percent (9-of-21) from three-point range. Lafayette shot 34 percent (21-of-61) and 25 percent (6-of-24) from long range. Lehigh won the battle of the boards, 42-35.
The Mountain Hawks return home on Wednesday when they host Bucknell at 7 p.m. inside Stabler Arena.
"I’m excited about the opportunity to play them," said Reed. "Both teams are very good, so it should be a competitive game. Bucknell is playing great basketball right now. Hopefully, we’re building something here [defensively] that will carry forward into next game."
They remain home next Saturday to host Holy Cross at 7 p.m. Tickets are on sale and may be purchased on Lehighsports.com or by calling the ticket office at (610) 7LU-GAME.