BETHLEHEM, Pa. – The Lehigh men’s basketball team scored 28 of the first 39 second-half points and withstood a late Navy rally to pull out an 87-75 win over the Midshipmen in the Patriot League Quarterfinals on Wednesday evening. With the win, the Mountain Hawks advance to the league semifinals for the second straight season and will travel to Bucknell to face the top-seeded Bison on Sunday at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets for Sunday’s game will go on sale on Thursday at 10 a.m. and may be purchased on Lehighsports.com or by calling the ticket office at (610) 7LU-GAME. The game will air nation-wide on CBS College Sports and will follow the first semifinal of the day which features sixth-seeded Lafayette at second-seeded American.
The win marks Lehigh’s fourth straight in the Patriot League Tournament, all coming in Stabler Arena. Sophomore C.J. McCollum led the way with 25 points while junior Jordan Hamilton added a career-high 15 points on 4-of-7 shooting, including 3-of-4 from three-point range.
In the process, McCollum moved from 43rd all the way to 40th on the Patriot League career scoring list, now with 1,289 career points. He finished 7-of-15 from the field and 10-of-12 from the free throw line.
"I thought our defensive intensity and energy at times was absolutely terrific," said Lehigh head coach Brett Reed. "Our bench production was outstanding and seniors came through and produced [as well]."
Senior Prentice Small was stellar off the bench, finishing with a season-high 11 points to go along with three assists. Senior David Safstrom played strong defense off the bench while Rob Keefer added four points, three rebounds and an assist. Sophomore Gabe Knutson finished with nine on a perfect 4-of-4 from the field.
"There have been spots within the last two games where we’ve played excellent basketball, but have been unable to sustain it," said Reed. "Tonight, we put together a more complete game - both offensively and defensively."
Four Navy players finished in double figures, led by a team-high 17 points from Greg Brown. O.J. Avworo added 14 while Jordan Sugars had 11 and Mark Veazey posted 10.
After trading baskets over the opening minutes, Small found McCollum for an open three-pointer to give the Mountain Hawks an 11-6 lead with 14:10 remaining in the first half. Navy responded with a 4-0 run, but Hamilton answered with a trey of his own to make it 14-10 with 13:01 to go.
The Midshipmen pulled within 15-14 following a Veazey layup, but the Mountain Hawks staged an 11-2 run over the next 4:36 to open a 10-point, 26-16 advantage with 7:22 remaining. The run was capped off by two Knutson baskets and a Small layup.
Navy came right back with an 11-2 run of its own to pull within 28-27 with 2:17 on the clock. After the Midshipmen knotted the score at 29, senior Michael Ojo converted an offensive rebound into an open jumper to give Lehigh a 31-29 lead. After forcing a stop, the Mountain Hawks converted a last-second full-court attempt for the 33-29 halftime advantage. Following a 30-second timeout, freshman Kevin McCarthy made the long full-court pass down to the offensive end. Hamilton missed a jumper, but McCollum was there for the putback as time expired.
The momentum continued into the second half as Ojo hit a three-pointer on Lehigh’s first possession to make it 36-29. With the Mountain Hawks up, 43-36 with 14:16 on the clock, Lehigh began to widen the margin, staging a 12-1 run over the next 2:50 to make it 55-37 following a long Mackey McKnight jumper. Hamilton previously hit another of his three three-pointers to put Lehigh up, 53-37.
The run extended to 20-4 as McCollum scored six of Lehigh’s next eight points to make it 63-40 with 9:50 remaining. But Navy answered by staging a 14-4 run to pull within 67-54 with 5:55 still remaining. The Midshipmen got points from five different players in that span.
The Mountain Hawks used a 7-2 run to reopen an 18-point lead, but Navy again wouldn’t go away, pulling as close as 10, 76-66, with 2:25 still remaining. That’s as close the Midshipmen would get, however, as Lehigh hit its free throws down the stretch to pull out the 87-75 final.
Lehigh shot 49 percent (27-of-55) from the field and 40 percent (6-of-15) from three-point range. Navy finished at 38 percent (21-of-56) and 28 percent (7-of-25) from long range. The Mountain Hawks won the battle of the boards, 40-31.
The Mountain Hawks now look ahead to the Patriot League Semifinals on Sunday evening at Bucknell. Tickets go on sale on Thursday at 10 a.m. and may be purchased on Lehighsports.com or by calling the ticket office at (610) 7LU-GAME.
Photography by Leah Kulp '12, used with permission.