BETHLEHEM, Pa. – The Lehigh men’s basketball team came back from a nine-point deficit with just over seven minutes remaining to even the score at 61, but couldn’t get over the hump as a late Vlad Moldoveanu free throw gave American a 62-61 win on Super Sunday in Stabler Arena. Sophomore C.J. McCollum recorded his fourth-straight double-double in the loss, finishing with a game-high 21 points and 10 rebounds.
Eleven of McCollum’s points came in a 2:54 stretch late in the second half. American opened up a 52-43 lead with 7:11 on the clock, but McCollum answered with nine points over Lehigh’s (12-11, 3-5 Patriot League) next three possessions. His fourth-straight double-double gives him eight for the season and 11 for his career.
Senior Michael Ojo held Moldoveanu, the Patriot League’s second leading scorer, to only 13 points on 5-of-14 shooting, but an offensive rebound following a Troy Brewer miss put him in prime position underneath the basket. He was fouled, sending him to the line where he broke a 61-61 tie with only 2.2 seconds remaining.
“Ojo has earned the respect as our primary defensive stopper,” said head coach Brett Reed. “We were trying to deny [Vlad] the ball, which put us in a vulnerable position for the offensive rebound. Unfortunately, Vlad’s size ultimately won out.”
After Moldoveanu hit the first free throw, McCollum grabbed the rebound off the miss. Reed attempted to call timeout, but was not granted one by the officials, forcing McCollum to heave a half-court desperation, which went wide of the mark.
“We had to go 94 feet down court,” said Reed. “At the end of the day, it would have been a desperation shot, one that would have been talked about for years to come. However, we would have liked the opportunity to take a shot.”
Junior Jordan Hamilton enjoyed his second consecutive stellar game, finishing with 10 points on 3-of-4 shooting and 2-of-3 from three-point range. Sophomore Gabe Knutson added nine points, including two big field goals as part of Lehigh’s comeback. Freshman Mackey McKnight finished with seven points, including a huge three-pointer with only 1:35 remaining to pull the Mountain Hawks within 61-59.
“I thought it was a defensive ballgame from the beginning,” said Reed. “Each team did a good job of trying to negate the other team’s strengths. We played solid defensively, but were unable to finish the possessions with a defensive rebound.”
After holding the rebounding edge for three straight games, the Mountain Hawks struggled on the boards in dropping the rebounding battle, 37-28.
A defensive first half saw the Eagles jump out to the quick 6-0 lead with 15:49 remaining. Lehigh responded with a 9-2 run over the next 3:23, capped off by the first of two Hamilton three-pointers to put the Mountain Hawks up, 9-8, with 12:26 to go.
The proceeding minutes saw a pair of ties and lead changes before a Stephen Lumpkins free throw put American up, 15-14. The Eagles held onto the lead for the rest of the half, going up by as many as four before the Mountain Hawks evened the score at 20, then again at 21. A Brewer jumper with seven seconds remaining put American ahead, 26-23, but McCollum hit a banker with time expiring in the first half to pull within 26-25 at intermission.
A tight opening three minutes of the second half saw four ties and three lead changes, as a Holden Greiner layup evened the score at 34 with 16:39 remaining. But American held onto the lead for the next 16:04 before Knutson knotted the score at 61 with 35 seconds to go in regulation. In between, American went up by as many as nine, 53-42, with 7:11 remaining. That’s when McCollum took over with a pair of three’s on consecutive possessions before finishing a three-point play to pull Lehigh right back within 55-52 with 5:18 on the clock.
A Lumpkins layup put the Eagles back up six with only 2:47 to go, but a Knutson fast break dunk and McKnight three-pointer pulled Lehigh within 61-59 with 1:35 to go. A minute later, Knutson grabbed a huge offensive rebound before converting the layup to pull Lehigh back to 61 all.
With time winding down in regulation, the Lehigh defense forced Brewer to take a desperation jumper, which was off the mark, but Moldoveanu grabbed the crucial offensive rebound before icing the game at the line.
Lehigh finished at 40 percent (21-of-52) from the field, 45 percent (5-of-11) from three-point range. American finished at 44 percent (24-of-54) and 29 percent (5-of-17) from three-point range. American won the battle of the boards, 37-28.
The Mountain Hawks hit the road for the first time in more than two weeks when they travel to Navy on Wednesday. They then head to Army on Saturday (Feb. 12) for a showdown with the Black Knights. Listen live on ESPN Radio 1230 and 1320 and on Lehighsports.com. The squad returns home on Feb. 16 when it hosts Colgate at Stabler Arena. Tickets are on sale and may be purchased on Lehighsports.com or by calling the ticket office at (610) 7LU-GAME.