QUEENS, N.Y. - Despite leading for much of the game, the Lehigh men’s basketball team fell victim to a second-half surge in dropping a 78-73 final to St. John’s in the Opening Round of the 2K Sports Classic on Wednesday evening. The Mountain Hawks held as much as a 16 point lead, but the Red Storm scored 32 of the game’s final 46 points to pull out the victory. Junior C.J. McCollum led Lehigh with 19 points.
“Unfortunately, we went ice cold and we weren’t able to get stops,” said Lehigh head coach Brett Reed. “Our defense has to be better because at times, the offense will go into small stretches with droughts, but our defense has to be a mainstay. After that is said, we have to be sure we can execute, value the basketball and not create opportunities for them to add to their charge.”
In a game of runs, the Mountain Hawks opened up on fire, taking as much as a 36-20 lead, but St. John’s used a 13-4 run late in the first half, and its big second-half charge to fend off a resilient Lehigh squad.
McCollum fell just shy of his 14th career double-double, scoring 19 points while pulling down nine boards. Fellow juniors Gabe Knutson and Holden Greiner chipped in with 16 and 12, respectively. God’sgift Achiuwa led St. John’s with 21.
It was also the first game back on the sidelines for St. John’s head coach Steve Lavin after undergoing surgery for prostate cancer.
The Mountain Hawks used hot shooting in the early going to open up an early 15-9 lead after sophomore Anthony D’Orazio knocked down Lehigh’s fifth trey in the first 6:10. St. John’s took an early 4-0 advantage before Lehigh’s three-point barrage began. Greiner and McCollum each hit a pair of treys to make it 12-6 with 14:37 to go in the first.
A Nurideen Lindsey layup pulled the Red Storm within 15-11, but McCollum answered with the Mountain Hawks’ first two-pointer of the evening to reopen a six-point lead. St. John’s pulled within 17-13, but Lehigh responded with a mini 6-0 run, using the first-career basket from freshman Corey Schaefer, along with jumpers from senior Justin Maneri and McCollum, to make it 23-13 with 10:13 remaining.
The Mountain Hawks opened up a 26-14 lead after Knutson finished off a three-point play then used four straight points from senior John Adams to make it 30-16 with 7:21 left in the first.
A pair of McCollum free throws opened Lehigh’s largest lead of the evening at 16 (36-20) with 5:35 on the clock, but St. John’s began to catch fire, scoring eight of the next 10 points to pull within 38-28 with 3:53 to go in the half.
A Greiner layup gave Lehigh a 40-28 lead, but the Red Storm charged back with five in a row to make it 40-33. However, junior Jordan Hamilton hit a big three-pointer with time winding down in the first to make it 43-33 at the half.
Lehigh crashed the boards early in the second half to re-open a 13-point lead at 49-36 following a Hamilton rebound and putback.
From there, the Red Storm went on a 7-2 run to pull back within 51-43 following a pair of free throws from Achiuwa with 12:43 remaining. But Lehigh came right back, using a McCollum three-pointer and emphatic Greiner fast break dunk to make it 56-44 with 12:08 to go in the second.
A Schaefer three gave the Mountain Hawks a 59-46 lead, but St. John’s responded with a 12-1 run capped off by a Moe Harkless jumper to pull within 60-58 with 5:49 left in the second.
Greiner ended a 5:41 scoreless drought with a jumper to make it 62-58, while a McCollum jumper made it 64-59 with 4:51 to go. A Knutson three-point play made it 67-64, just 20 seconds after St. John’s came all the way back to tie it at 64. A fast break runner from Sir’Dominic Pointer gave St. John’s its first lead since it was 4-3 and, but again Knutson responded with a pair of free throws to give Lehigh a one-point advantage.
However, a Achiuwa layup helped St. John’s regain the lead with less than two minutes remaining, a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
Lehigh wouldn’t say quit. Down seven with less than 20 seconds remaining, the Mountain Hawks pulled within a single possession (76-73) with three seconds to go, but it was too little, too late.
After shooting 54 percent from the field in the first half (15-of-28), the Mountain Hawks finished at 42 percent (27-of-65) for the game and 31 percent (8-of-26) from three-point range. St. John’s shot 55 percent (23-of-42) and 22 percent (2-of-9) from long range. Lehigh won the battle of the boards, 36-28.
The Mountain Hawks have a short turnaround as they head to Iowa State for a Saturday afternoon showdown against the Cyclones. Tipoff is set for 2 p.m. Eastern (1 p.m. local time). Tickets for all home games are now on sale and may be purchased on Lehighsports.com or by calling the ticket office at (610) 7LU-GAME.