BRONX, N.Y. - The Lehigh men’s basketball team broke open a tight 51-47 lead midway through the second half by scoring 27 of the game’s final 40 points to top Fordham, 78-60, on Thursday evening for its sixth straight win. All six victories have come by double figures as the Mountain Hawks improve to 6-2, marking their best start since the 1980-81 season. Four Lehigh players finished in double figures for the fifth straight game, led by 21 from junior Gabe Knutson.
The victory marks Lehigh’s first-ever over an Atlantic 10 team and first over Fordham since Jan. 11, 1995 (Fordham was in the Patriot League at the time).
The junior class again led the way as Knutson finished one rebound shy of a double-double, as did Holden Greiner, who posted 18 rebounds, including 11 in the first 7:35 of the second half. C.J. McCollum also added 15 points, seven rebounds and six assists in a strong all-around effort.
“Fordham gave us a lot of defensive energy, particularly in the first half,” said Lehigh head coach Brett Reed. “That defensive energy got us out of sync. Fortunately, Gabe Knutson really provided a strong interior presence. Then ultimately, we closed out the game with pretty solid defense, we got our stops and extended what was a relatively close game into something that wouldn’t be as reflective in the final score.”
At the half, Lehigh was shooting only 28.2% (11-39) from the field and 25% (3-12) from three point range, but turned that around by shooting 50 percent (13-of-26) in the second, including 40 percent (4-of-10) from long distance.
Sophomore Mackey McKnight added 10 points to become the fourth Mountain Hawk in double figures. That included 6-of-6 from the free throw line as the Mountain Hawks finished 23-of-25 from the charity stripe to Fordham’s 6-of-17.
Lehigh got off to a fast start, scoring just four seconds in as Knutson won the tip ahead to McCollum, who found Hamilton for an open three-pointer. The senior captain drained it for the quick 3-0 advantage.
Both sides began to score at a frantic pace as the Mountain Hawks reopened their three-point lead on multiple occasions, but Fordham continued to have answers. Knutson was the story in the early going as a wide-open three-pointer at the top of the key rolled in to make it 8-4 with 18:21 remaining.
McKnight hit a short jumper to put Lehigh up 17-12 with 13:13 remaining, but Fordham went on to stage an 11-2 run over the next 4:20 to open its largest lead of the half (and game), 23-19, following an Alberto Estwick three.
After going 2:45 without scoring, McCollum began to heat up as he finished a three-point play, converted a fastbreak layup then hit a pair of free throws for seven quick points in only 3:06. His free throws helped Lehigh regain a 28-25 lead with 4:10 left on the clock.
Fordham took over down the stretch, scoring the final four points while holding the Mountain Hawks scoreless to take a 29-28 lead into the locker room.
After making a stop on the Rams’ first possession, Greiner hit a three-pointer just 27 seconds in to put Lehigh in front, 31-29. Chris Gaston responded with five straight Fordham points to put the Rams in front, 34-31, but Hamilton came right back with a three of his own to tie it up.
The Rams again went up three, 37-34, but the Mountain Hawks responded with a 12-2 run which included a pair of Greiner threes and Knutson baskets as Greiner’s fourth trey of the game made it 46-39 with 12:29 remaining, forcing Fordham to call timeout.
The Rams answered right out of the timeout with six straight points as an Estwick jumper made it 46-45 with 10:10 on the clock. However, Lehigh again came back with a pair of defensive stops, which led to two straight layups - from McCollum and McKnight - to reopen a 50-45 advantage.
With the score 51-47, then 57-51, the Mountain Hawks used a 17-3 run to take control as McCollum finished off six straight Lehigh free throws to make it 74-54 with only 1:36 remaining.
The Mountain Hawks easily held on down the stretch for the 18-point victory.
Lehigh finished shooting 37 percent (24-of-65) from the field and 32 percent (7-of-22) from three-point range. Fordham, led by 16 points from Estwick, shot 42 percent (25-of-60) and 31 percent (4-of-13) from long distance.
Lehigh has a quick turnaround as it heads to Cornell on Saturday for a 7 p.m. tipoff against the Big Red. The Mountain Hawks will return to Stabler Arena next Wednesday for a 7:30 p.m. showdown against Saint Francis (Pa.). 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.
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