BETHLEHEM, Pa. – Despite falling behind by nine at the half, the Lehigh men’s basketball team staged a spirited second half comeback to force overtime, where the Mountain Hawks (12-10, 3-4 PL) outscored Holy Cross, 11-7, for a much-needed 79-75 win on Saturday afternoon in Stabler Arena. Sophomore C.J. McCollum recorded his third straight double-double and filled up the stat sheet with 29 points, 14 rebounds, six assists, two blocks and two steals.
The Mountain Hawks improve to 2-0 in overtime games this season as they also defeated Stony Brook by a similar final back in December. Lehigh won that game in the extra session, 79-76. Saturday also marked Lehigh’s third win when trailing at the half as it improves to 3-3 in those contests.
"I was really impressed that although things weren’t working well for us at times, we kept our focus," said head coach Brett Reed. "We probably had more internal leadership in this game than the last three or four games combined. We showed a togetherness and focus."
Lehigh jumped out to a fast start, scoring 16 points in the first 3:29, but went into a long offensive drought which allowed Holy Cross to open an 11-point advantage. The Mountain Hawks slowly chipped away in the second half, though, before retaking the lead with 1:18 remaining in regulation.
McCollum now has 10 career double-doubles and seven this season (six at home). The 14 rebounds tied a career-high while his six assists set a season-high and fell only two shy of his career-high of eight, also against Holy Cross last season. He finished 9-of-22 from the field and 9-of-10 from the free throw line.
Sophomore Gabe Knutson was stellar as well, netting 22 points on 9-of-15 shooting. Freshman Mackey McKnight finished with nine points and a career-high eight assists. Five of those assists came in the game’s first 3:29 to help Lehigh to its quick start.
Senior Michael Ojo chipped in with eight points, including a pair of critical three-pointers late in regulation and then in overtime. Junior Jordan Hamilton was big off the bench, scoring six points and grabbing seven rebounds to tie a career high.
"Being a young team, there is a learning curve," said Reed. "Hopefully, we can use these experiences and get better in upcoming tests."
Devin Brown led the way for Holy Cross with 27 points on 10-of-15 shooting. Mike Cavataio also chipped in with 13.
Down 34-25 at the half, Lehigh slowly began to chip away in the second stanza. A Knutson layup with 19:17 to go pulled the Mountain Hawks within 34-29, but Holy Cross responded by scoring 10 of the next 13 points to reopen a 12-point advantage.
With the margin still at nine with 12:15 remaining, Knutson answered with the game’s next three points to again pull within two possessions, 49-43, with 11:17 to go. The Crusaders continued to respond, however, opening up a 56-48 lead with 7:33 on the clock following a pair of Andrew Beinert free throws.
McCollum put the Mountain Hawks on his back midway through the second half, helping them stage a 8-1 run to pull within 57-56 with 5:41 on the clock. He scored six straight Lehigh points in that stretch behind a pair of jumpers and free throws.
Holy Cross went on to open a 64-59 advantage with only 2:52 to go, but Lehigh scored five in a row to pull even. McCollum corralled an offensive rebound and found Knutson for the easy layup to even the score at 64 with 1:51 remaining.
Trailing by two with less than a minute remaining, Hamilton grabbed a huge offensive rebound and was fouled. He hit both free throws to even the score at 68. Both teams had chances to break the deadlock, but neither was able to convert, keeping the score tied at 68 after 40 minutes.
The Mountain Hawks continued the momentum into overtime where they scored the first seven points, capped off by an Ojo three-pointer, to give them their largest lead since early in the first half. Holy Cross eventually pulled within 77-75 following a Devin Brown three-pointer, but yet another offensive rebound from Hamilton led to an easy layup to give Lehigh a 79-75 cushion with only 23 seconds remaining, all but sealing the victory.
A back and forth first half saw Lehigh score 14 points in the first 2:57 and 16 in the first 3:29. The Mountain Hawks scored on their first eight offensive possessions as they hit eight of their first 10 shots overall. They also grabbed three offensive rebounds within the first minute to help jump out to the fast start.
A McCollum jumper with 16:31 remaining gave Lehigh a 16-8 lead and proved to be Lehigh’s last scoring in 3:43 until he knocked down a three-pointer with 12:48 on the clock. Overall, the Mountain Hawks went a long stretch of 13:09 in which they only scored three points, allowing Holy Cross to stage a 22-3 run and take a 30-19 lead with less than four minutes remaining in the first half.
Knutson ended the drought with a layup to pull within 30-21, before scoring on the next possession as well behind a big offensive rebound and put-back to pull within seven. Holy Cross reopened an 11-point lead, but McCollum hit two free throws with 35 seconds remaining for the 35-24 halftime score.
Lehigh finished at 40 percent (27-of-68) from the field and only 24 percent (4-of-17) from three-point range. Holy Cross shot a blistering 48 percent (28-of-58) and 42 percent (5-of-12) from long range. The Mountain Hawks won the rebounding battle for the third straight game, edging the Crusaders in boards, 42-34.
The Mountain Hawks wrap up their three-game homestand next Sunday (Feb. 6) when they welcome American to Stabler for a 2 p.m. tip-off, which will air nationally on CBS College Sports. Tickets are on sale and may be purchased on Lehighsports.com or by calling the ticket office at (610) 7LU-GAME.