SMITHFIELD, R.I. - After struggling in the early going, the Lehigh men’s basketball team used a 25-6 run to end the first half and extended its lead in the second as the Mountain Hawks held off Bryant, 72-55, on Saturday. Junior C.J. McCollum spearheaded the run with 20 of Lehigh’s 37 first-half points before finishing the game with 34. The victory also gives Lehigh its school-record 11th nonleague win as the squad improves to 11-4 on the season.
Junior Gabe Knutson also shined with his third-career double-double (second this season) with 18 points and 13 rebounds. The victory gave Lehigh a season sweep of the NEC, finishing 5-0 with wins over Fairleigh Dickinson, Quinnipiac, Saint Francis (Pa.), Wagner and Bryant.
“We struggled in the beginning of the game offensively, but Gabe Knutson made the commitment to rebound,” said Lehigh head coach Brett Reed. “He got us some extra possessions and also got us some scores inside the paint, which was really critical to settle us down and give us some balance.”
McCollum’s 34 points came on 13-of-21 shooting as he moved from 17th to 14th in Patriot League history, now with 1,608 career points. He also moved into seventh in Lehigh history, passing Rashawne Glenn. It marked his 11th-career game with 30 or more points and third this season.
Bryant was led by 14 points from Claybrin McMath, which included four three-pointers. Raphael Jordan, brother of Lehigh Director of Basketball Operations T.J. Jordan, finished with 12.
Lehigh jumped out to a 4-0 lead via four straight free throws. After a Bryant three-pointer with 17:04 on the clock, McCollum responded with two straight baskets to open an 8-3 lead, forcing the Bulldogs to call timeout.
The Mountain Hawks continued to struggle shooting the ball, knocking down 2-of-13 from the field at the under-12 timeout, but Lehigh had a 14-7 rebounding edge to stay ahead.
With the score tied at 12, McCollum began to heat up with nine straight Mountain Hawk points. He first converted a three-point play with 9:01 on the clock then knocked down a trey from the corner, before finishing another three-point play with 6:06 remaining. That gave Lehigh a 21-13 lead with 6:06 left in the first.
The Mountain Hawks continued to shoot the ball well, as sophomore Anthony D’Orazio, freshman Corey Schaefer and Knutson all knocked down threes. McCollum then wrapped up a half to remember with a strong drive and an emphatic dunk with 1:44 on the clock before his three-pointer with 34 seconds to go made it 37-18 after 20 minutes of play. He finished the first half shooting 7-of-10 from the field, including 2-of-3 from three-point range.
McCollum and Knutson combined for Lehigh’s first 10 second-half points. Knutson finished a layup, long jumper and dunk while McCollum hit a long two, then a trey with 16:34 remaining to give the Mountain Hawks a 48-22 lead.
Bryant pulled within 54-31 following a pair of Raphael Jordan free throws, but Lehigh responded with two straight field goals - a McKnight runner followed by a McCollum fastbreak layup to give Lehigh a 58-31 advantage.
A Conroy Baltimore floater gave Lehigh a 60-33 lead, but Bryant went on a 9-0 run behind three McMath three-pointers, pulling the Bulldogs within 60-42 with 9:08 remaining, forcing Lehigh to call timeout.
Knutson ended the run with a pair of free throws with 8:06 on the clock, then a three-pointer from junior Holden Greiner and a layup from Schaefer made it 67-48, helping Lehigh gain control.
Fittingly McCollum wrapped up his stellar game with a layup, then three-point play to account for Lehigh’s final five points.
The Mountain Hawks finished 42 percent from the field (26-of-62) and 32 percent from three-point range (7-of-22). Bryant shot 35 percent (18-of-52) and 35 percent from long range (8-of-23). Lehigh won the battle of the boards, 46-29
The Mountain Hawks return home on Tuesday 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.
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