LEWISBURG, Pa. – Despite opening up an early eight-point lead, the Bucknell Bison responded in a big way, scoring 58 of the game’s final 87 points to down the Lehigh men’s basketball team, 72-55, on Wednesday evening at Sojka Pavilion. A strong start was highlighted by sophomore C.J. McCollum, who scored 11 straight Lehigh points in the span of 2:43. The Mountain Hawks will try to wrap up the No. 3 seed in the league standings on Saturday when it travels to Holy Cross to face the Crusaders.
A strong offensive start was quickly stopped by an aggressive Bison defense. After scoring 26 points in the game’s first 9:06, the Lehigh offense struggled to get in rhythm, scoring only 29 points in the final 30:54 to hold Lehigh to its fewest points since Dec. 23 at USC. The victory extended the Bison’s win streak to six games as they have won 19 of their last 21 overall.
The loss snaps Lehigh’s three-game road winning streak, marking its first loss away from home in over a month (Jan. 19 at Colgate).
McCollum led the scoring attack with 17 points on 6-of-16 shooting. Freshman Mackey McKnight impressed on the offensive end, posting 12 points, two assists and a career-high six rebounds. Junior Jordan Hamilton also added 10 while sophomore Gabe Knutson chipped in with eight.
The Mountain Hawk defense held Bucknell’s top two scorers Mike Muscala and Bryson Johnson to only 14 combined points, but Darryl Shazier finished with 15 and Bryan Cohen added 13 to lead the Bucknell attack.
“They have other players besides Muscala and Johnson who are talented,” said Lehigh head coach Brett Reed. “The story of the second half was our inefficiency on offense. We had a number of turnovers and when we had quality looks, we didn’t knock them down.”
Lehigh shot 52 percent (13-of-25) in the first half, but only 21 percent (5-of-24) in the second. Bucknell responded by shooting 42 percent (16-of-31) in the second half to gain control.
Shazier hit a three-pointer on the game’s opening possession, but the Mountain Hawks weren’t fazed. They answered with five straight points capped off by a Knutson three-point play to put Lehigh up, 5-3 with 18:48 on the clock.
Two minutes later, Hamilton converted driving layups on back-to-back possessions to give Lehigh a 13-10 advantage with 15:17 to go.
With Lehigh up 15-12, McCollum took over, scoring 11 straight Lehigh points in just 2:43 to help the Mountain Hawks gain control. First, he hit a jumper in the paint put Lehigh up 17-12. He then knocked down three straight three-pointers, two off ball screens and the other off a nifty pass from senior Prentice Small. The third gave the Mountain Hawks a 26-18 lead, their largest of the half, with 10:54 remaining.
Lehigh then went into a 2:56 scoreless drought, allowing Bucknell to pull within two. But McKnight broke the drought with a tough fallaway to give the Mountain Hawks a 28-24 advantage with 7:58 to go.
The Bison continued their relentless play as a Cameron Ayers steal and subsequent three-point play capped off a mini 5-0 run to give Bucknell a 31-30 lead with 4:00 on the clock, its first lead since 2-0.
The teams struggled from the field in the closing minutes of the first half as Lehigh mustered only three points in the final 5:36, but its defense helped it stay within three after 20 minutes of play.
Bucknell began the second half on fire, staging a quick 13-2 run to open up the game’s first double-digit lead, 49-35.
The Lehigh offense continued to struggle. After a McCollum jumper with 18:39 to go, the Mountain Hawks went 3:02 before a McCollum free throw snapped the scoreless drought. Lehigh pulled within 11 on multiple occasions, but the Bison continued to extend their advantage.
A Ben Brackney three-pointer gave Bucknell its largest lead at 58-42, but the Mountain Hawks wouldn’t quit, staging a 9-2 run capped off by a McKnight steal and fastbreak layup to pull within 60-51 with 6:20 still on the clock.
As quickly as Lehigh pulled within nine, the Bison used a 7-0 run in just over a minute of game action to regain the 16-point, 67-51 advantage with 3:29 to go.
Bucknell maintained control over the final minutes to wrap up the 72-55 victory.
The Mountain Hawks head to Holy Cross on Saturday for their regular season finale in Worcester, Mass. Tip-off is set for 4 p.m. and will be nationally televised on CBS College Sports, as announced last Thursday. Listen live on ESPN Radio 1230 and 1320 and on Lehighsports.com.
“Each game is its own pressure,” said Reed. “Our goal is to win every game. There are certainly some [added] ramifications up in Worcester. Hopefully we can put our best foot forward.”