WORCESTER, Mass. - Despite a strong second-half surge, the Lehigh men’s basketball team fell victim to a hot-shooting Crusaders’ team in dropping its Patriot League opener at Holy Cross, 84-78 on Saturday. The Crusaders used 59-percent first-half shooting to score 47 points, but Lehigh (12-5, 0-1 PL) hung around, pulling as close as five in the second half before falling short.
“Anytime you build that big of a deficit, it’s tough to come back,” said Lehigh head coach Brett Reed. “We knew Holy Cross would run in transition, put us on our heels and take it to us right from the beginning. They found opportunities to score in the open floor and capitalized on those chances.”
Junior C.J. McCollum led the way with 27 points on 10-of-25 shooting. Junior Holden Greiner finished with 14 to eclipse 500-career points (now 504) while Gabe Knutson was also in double figures with 12. Senior Justin Maneri also played a strong game with six points and five rebounds in 13 minutes off the bench.
Dave Dudzinski had a career game with 23 points to lead Holy Cross. Devin Brown also had 20.
Holy Cross came out of the gate on fire, taking a 6-0 lead before sophomore Mackey McKnight got the Mountain Hawks on the board with a strong drive to the basket. An R.J. Evans layup made it 10-2, but Lehigh used two straight hoops from McCollum and Greiner to pull within 10-6 with 16:50 on the clock.
The frantic pace continued as the Crusaders opened a 14-point, 24-10 advantage with 12:48 remaining, but Maneri’s second straight basket on the ensuing possession pulled Lehigh within 12. Maneri then made a nice feed to Greiner, who finished the dunk to make it 24-14.
Lehigh pulled back as close as eight, 29-21, following a pair of Knutson free throws with 7:20 on the clock, then with Holy Cross leading 36-26, the Crusaders staged an 11-2 run to open their largest lead of the first half at 19 (47-28) with 3:08 remaining.
But the Mountain Hawks shut-out Holy Cross the rest of the half, while scoring five of their own to pull within 47-33 after 20 minutes of play.
The Crusaders shot a sizzling 59 percent (19-of-32) from the field in the first half, including 56 percent (5-of-9) from three-point range. Lehigh shot 36 percent (14-of-39) and just 14 percent (1-of-7) from long distance in the first 20 minutes.
Lehigh extended its late first-half run to 9-0 with two straight baskets - a nifty move by Greiner followed by a drive and dunk by Knutson - to pull within 47-37 with 19:04 on the clock.
Holy Cross scored six of the next seven points capped off by three straight Justin Burrell free throws to re-open a 53-38 advantage, but the Mountain Hawks continued to hang around.
An Evans layup gave Holy Cross a 61-46 advantage, but from there, the Mountain Hawks began to catch fire. A McCollum three-pointer pulled Lehigh within 61-49. Holy Cross later went up 67-54, but Greiner responded with his first three-pointer of the game, then a three-point play from freshman Corey Schaefer pulled the Mountain Hawks back within 73-66 with 3:48 on the clock.
With the Mountain Hawks down eight with just over a minute remaining, Knutson made a steal at center court, which set up a McCollum three-pointer on the other end, pulling Lehigh within 76-71, as close as it had been since 10-6. The Mountain Hawks then had a chance to pull even closer, but a McCollum three-pointer was wide of the mark.
Lehigh would pull back within five on multiple occasions, but Holy Cross had the answer from the line as the Crusaders wrapped up an 84-78 victory.
Holy Cross finished at 52 percent from the field (30-of-58) and 37 percent from three-point range (7-of-19) while Lehigh was at 39 percent (30-of-77) and 24 percent from long range (6-of-25). The Crusaders won the battle of the boards, 40-37.
Lehigh returns home next Wednesday (Jan. 11) to host American at 7 p.m. in Stabler Arena. 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.