HACKENSACK, N.J. - The Lehigh men’s basketball team scored 11 of the first 16 second-half points to open up a double-digit lead, and held off Fairleigh Dickinson down the stretch as the Mountain Hawks picked up their first win of the season, 72-61, on Tuesday evening. Junior C.J. McCollum led the way with 23 points while junior Gabe Knutson and sophomore Mackey McKnight also recorded double figures with 16 and 12, respectively.
“Fairleigh Dickinson is a very talented team,” said Lehigh head coach Brett Reed. “It’s hard to underestimate the amount of talent that was out on the floor.”
Junior Holden Greiner was steady with six points and eight rebounds - his second straight game as the team-lead in boards. McKnight dished out three assists to go with his 12 points as well.
Both teams got off to slow starts as they combined to shoot 33 percent (21-of-63) from the field in the first half while combining for 21 turnovers. Lehigh finished with 21 turnovers, but the Knights had 22.
Lehigh took advantage of the charity stripe in the first half to maintain a six-point lead after 20 minutes of play. McKnight was the story in the early going, scoring four of Lehigh’s first nine points while finishing the first half with eight.
McKnight’s first basket came with 16:04 remaining. He then scored Lehigh’s next points less than a minute later to make it 9-6. The Houston, Texas native hit a pair of free throws with 12:52 on the clock to help the Mountain Hawks go in front 14-8. With Lehigh leading 17-12, Fairleigh Dickinson made a run, hitting two straight three-pointers in a 34-second span to put the Knights in front for the first time, 18-17.
After Greiner knocked down an interior shot with 7:33 on the clock, Lehigh used the free throw line to maintain its advantage; the squad scored eight straight from the charity stripe to stay out in front. McCollum ended the field goal drought with 2:17 remaining, knocking down a three-pointer for Lehigh’s first field goal in 5:16.
Freshman Conroy Baltimore later added a hard-fought interior basket following a rebound to give Lehigh a 32-26 at the half.
McKnight continued his strong play in the second half to help the Mountain Hawks open a double-digit advantage. After baskets from Greiner and senior Jordan Hamilton, McKnight made an interior pass to Knutson to set him up for the easy layup. Just 43 seconds later, he converted a fastbreak layup to make it 40-31 with 17:01 left in the second. McKnight then hit a pair of free throws to give Lehigh its first double-digit lead of the game, 42-31.
The Knights answered with the next six points to pull within 42-31, but that’s when McCollum took over. He hit a pair of three-pointers, with a Knutson basket in between, to help Lehigh regain an 11-point advantage, 50-39, with 12:49 remaining.
Lehigh opened up a 51-39 lead after a Knutson free throw, but Fairleigh Dickinson scored the next five to pull within 51-44 with exactly 10 minutes remaining. The Knights had a chance to move closer, but the Mountain Hawks’ defense stood tall. They then scored the next five, including a Stefan Cvrkalj runner in the lane, to make it 56-44. As part of that run, Lehigh held FDU scoreless for 3:15 between free throws from Melquan Bolding and Lonnie Robinson free throw.
The Knights pulled back to within 62-55 with only 1:54 remaining, but the Mountain Hawks hit 10 free throws down the stretch – six from McCollum, two from freshman Corey Schaefer and two from senior John Adams – to clinch the 72-61 victory.
Lehigh finished at 39 percent (21-of-54) from the field, 25 percent (4-of-16) from three-point range. The Mountain Hawks also hit 26-of-30 Fairleigh Dickinson was 38 percent (27-of-72) and 19 percent (3-of-16) from long range. The Knights won the battle of the boards, 43-38.
The Mountain Hawks return to action this weekend when it heads to Liberty for the Subregionals of the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer. Lehigh will face William & Mary (Friday), host Liberty (Saturday) and Eastern Kentucky (Sunday). 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.