EAST LANSING, Mich. – The Lehigh men’s basketball team put quite a scare in #19/20 Michigan State, but the Spartans (11-2) used a 27-10 second-half run to capture a 90-81 win over the Mountain Hawks (9-4) on Thursday evening. Lehigh held a 38-35 lead at the half and pulled as close as 85-79 with just over a minute to go, but the Spartans knocked down their free throws down the stretch to erase any doubt. Junior Holden Greiner led the way with a career-high 24 points in front of many friends and family in his homecoming to Michigan.
“Going into this game, we knew we were facing a quality a team, a program with tremendous tradition and history,” said Lehigh head coach Brett Reed. “I’m proud of the fight that we put forward. I thought we played together, we hustled and tried to make the right plays. Unfortunately, there was a small stretch in the second half when we had some defensive breakdowns; we also had some turnovers that led to easy opportunities.”
Lehigh used an early 11-0 run to erase a six-point deficit and go up by five. The Mountain Hawks continued to lead for much of the first half, taking a three-point advantage into the locker room. Michigan State opened up its largest lead (16) with 7:11 remaining before Lehigh fought back to within six, but couldn’t pull any closer.
The Mountain Hawks eclipsed 70 points for the 13th time in as many games this year, with all four losses this season coming by single figures. The valiant effort came in front of 14,797 in attendance, the most at a Lehigh men’s basketball game since there were 17,950 at Maryland on Nov. 23, 2007.
Three other Lehigh players reached double-figure points, including juniors C.J. McCollum (19) and Gabe Knutson (14) and sophomore Mackey McKnight (14). Greiner’s game-high 24 points came on 8-of-12 shooting and 4-of-7 from three-point range. McCollum finished with a team-high eight rebounds and five assists.
Four Spartans finished in double figures, led by 19 from Keith Appling. The Mountain Hawks held Michigan State’s leading scorer Draymond Green to 16 points on only 5-of-17 shooting.
Michigan State scored on its first possession, but McCollum hit a three-pointer just 20 seconds later to give Lehigh an early advantage. The Spartans went on to open an 11-5 lead following an Appling three-point play with 15:31 on the clock.
Lehigh followed with an impressive 11-0 run of its own, which included nine points from Greiner along with two from sophomore Anthony D’Orazio. That made it 16-11 Lehigh with 12:43 left in the first.
The Spartans came right back, going ahead 20-19 after an Appling layup with 8:15 remaining, but the resilient Mountain Hawks continued to have an answer. A jumper from freshman Corey Schaefer made it 25-23. Then with Lehigh down two following a pair of Austin Thornton free throws with just 9.8 seconds remaining, McCollum went the other way for the layup and the foul. Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo was called for a technical foul as well, giving McCollum three free throws which he drained. That made it 38-35 Lehigh heading into the locker room.
Michigan State began the second with a Green layup, but Lehigh responded with a thunderous alley-oop from McKnight to Greiner to reopen a 40-37 advantage. A McKnight free throw made it 41-39 with 17:41 left in the second, but the Spartans went on to score 15 of the next 21 points to open their largest lead to that point, 54-47, following a Travis Trice three-pointer with 12:22 on the clock.
The Spartans opened a 60-47 advantage following a Branden Dawson second-chance basket, but Greiner silenced the crowd temporarily with a three with 9:20 remaining. Michigan State again opened up a 64-51 advantage before making it 16, 67-51, with 7:11 remaining.
Lehigh wouldn’t quit as a dunk from junior Gabe Knutson made it 78-68 with 1:57 to go. The Mountain Hawks went on to convert three-point plays on consecutive possessions - first by McCollum then by Knutson - to make it 85-79 with 37 seconds remaining. However, the Spartans hit 5-of-6 free throws in the final seconds to clinch the victory.
The Mountain Hawks finished 42 percent from the field (25-of-59) and 35 percent from three-point range (8-of-23). Michigan State finished at 40 percent (27-of-67) and 36 percent from long range (4-of-11). The Spartans held a 50-31 rebounding advantage.
Lehigh returns to action following the holiday on Wednesday, Dec. 28 at Saint Peter’s. The Mountain Hawks then head to Bryant on Dec. 31 before returning home on Jan. 3 to host University of Maryland Eastern Shore. 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.
Photos taken by Tim Fuller.