STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. - Sophomore Anthony D’Orazio nailed a game-winning three-pointer with eight seconds left from the right corner to give Lehigh a gutsy 70-69 win over Wagner on Saturday. The Mountain Hawks (8-3) used a 14-0 run to overcome a 58-47 second-half deficit in handing the Seahawks (7-3) their first home loss of the season. Lehigh trailed 68-64 with 21.5 seconds left but showed no quit, as threes from sophomore Mackey McKnight and D’Orazio sent the Mountain Hawks home winners.
“It was a dogfight,” said Lehigh head coach Brett Reed. “Unfortunately, the game got a little out of control [physically]. It wasn’t great basketball. But our guys overcame and came together. I thought it was a terrific performance.”
Junior Gabe Knutson was knocked out of the game after taking an elbow to the face with 6:51 to play, but the Mountain Hawks rallied together. Down by 11 (58-47), that’s when Lehigh staged its furious 14-0 run to take a 61-58 advantage with 3:31 on the clock.
Six points during the run came from the free throw line, while McKnight added a jumper and three-pointer. Junior C.J. McCollum also completed an old fashioned three-point play to give Lehigh its first lead of the game, 59-58, with 4:08 on the clock. McKnight added his jumper shortly after to extend Lehigh’s lead to three with 3:30 remaining.
Wagner ended the run with a pair of free throws, but Lehigh was still hanging on to a one-point lead. Senior Jordan Hamilton then nailed a three from the left corner to give the Mountain Hawks a 64-60 lead with 1:24 left.
But Wagner quickly responded with a trey of its own to cut Lehigh’s lead to one. The Mountain Hawks then turned the ball over and the Seahawks took advantage, hitting a pair of free throws as Lehigh trailed 65-64 with 54 seconds on the clock.
On their ensuing possession, the Mountain Hawks turned the ball over. And after a timeout, Wagner broke Lehigh’s pressure for a basket and the foul. After finishing the three-point play, Lehigh trailed 68-64 with 21.5 seconds left.
McKnight immediately came down and hit a three to cut the deficit to 68-67 with 16 seconds left. And after 88 percent free throw shooter Latif Rivers made only one-of-two, Lehigh took it the other way down 69-67. That set up D’Orazio who nailed his second three of the day to send the Mountain Hawks home winners. Rivers had one final three-pointer with time expiring, but it didn’t fall as Lehigh pulled out its first single-digit victory of the season.
“We wanted to give C.J. a little bit of room on the open floor,” said Reed. “He got the ball in his hands with a head of steam. Anthony was able to get his feet set, and he finished.”
“Coach drew it up and put the trust in me,” said D’Orazio. “I haven’t been shooting well this season and for him to put the trust in me, it means a lot.”
McCollum led the way with 22 points on 7-of-14 shooting, 3-of-5 from three-point range and 5-of-7 from the charity stripe. He added a team-high six rebounds, five assists and three steals in a sensational all-around performance. McKnight also broke out for a season-high 15 points, all coming in the second half. Senior Justin Maneri came in for Knutson and came up with some big points and rebounds in key minutes down the stretch; he finished the game with four points and five boards.
“We really struggled to move the basketball [in the first half],” said Reed. “But we were sharing the ball in the second half. C.J. really made the difference because he opened things up for us.”
The win marked Lehigh’s eighth in its last nine games as the victory came over an up-and-coming Wagner squad that owns strong wins over Princeton, Penn, Lafayette and Hofstra while falling by only 12 to defending national champion UConn.
Lehigh trailed in the early going, 9-4, with 15:23 left as Knutson and McCollum scored the lone baskets. The Mountain Hawks then fell behind, 13-6, but Lehigh went on a 4-0 run behind a short jumper from Maneri and a McCollum layup to cut the deficit to 13-10 with 11:27 left. Wagner responded, however, with a 9-2 run to make it 22-12 with 7:40 on the clock. A big difference early was shooting as at that point, Lehigh was 6-for-20 from the field to Wagner’s 10-for-14.
McCollum then heated up as Lehigh went on an 11-4 run to cut the deficit to 26-23 with 1:59 to go. Nine of those 11 points came off the hand of McCollum as Lehigh cut it to two late in the first half, but Wagner added a basket in the final seconds to make it 31-27 at halftime.
Despite shooting only 37 percent in the first half to Wagner’s 64 percent, the Mountain Hawks handled the Seahawks’ aggressive defense, only turning the ball over four times in the first 20 minutes.
Wagner started the second half with an 8-2 run to make it 39-29 with 16:32 left. The Mountain Hawks’ first four points of the half came on free throws as they found their first field goal with 14:45 to go on a layup from junior Holden Greiner to cut the deficit to 39-33.
Lehigh trailed 46-35 with 11:26 to go, but the Mountain Hawks responded with a 9-2 run to cut the deficit to 48-44 with 10:00 left after Lehigh got a three-pointer from D’Orazio and a pair of old-fashion three-point plays from McKnight and Knutson.
Wagner then went on a 10-3 run over the next three minutes to extend its lead to 58-47 with 7:15 on the clock, but that’s when the Mountain Hawks staged their spirited comeback which led to D’Orazio’s heroics.
Lehigh finished shooting 39 percent (23-of-59) and 36 percent (8-of-22) from three-point range. Wagner finished at 51 percent (27-of-53) and 27 percent (4-of-15) from long range. The Mountain Hawks won the battle of the boards, 35-29.
Lehigh returns home on Monday to host Arcadia at 7 p.m. in the final game before final exams. The Mountain Hawks will then return to action on Thursday, Dec. 22 when they travel to Michigan State to face the Spartans. That game will tip at 9 p.m. on ESPNU. 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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