BETHLEHEM, Pa. - Up by three at the half, the Lehigh men’s basketball team quickly opened up a double-digit lead and wouldn’t give it up, topping a pesky Navy (3-17, 0-6 Patriot League) squad, 71-60 on Thursday in Stabler Arena. Junior C.J. McCollum led the way with his 15th-career double-double, posting 24 points and 14 rebounds. The victory gives the Mountain Hawks (16-6, 4-2) their 16th win of the season, tying the team’s total from all of last year. Lehigh also pulled 10 games over .500 in the regular season for the first time since 1988.
The game was aired live nationally on CBS Sports Network and will be re-aired on four occasions: Friday (Jan. 27) at 12:30 a.m. and 8 a.m. and Saturday (Jan. 28) at 1 a.m. and 6 a.m.
“I was pleased that we were able to play with defensive energy, however our offensive execution and focus to finish plays was really off tonight,” said Lehigh head coach Brett Reed. “It was evident in the way we shot free throws and in our transition attack. We even played unselfish basketball and people had good looks, but we were off in those fronts as well.”
McCollum’s 24 points gives him 1,775 for his career as he passed former Lehigh standout Jose Olivero to move into fifth in school history and seventh in Patriot League history for career scoring. McCollum enters Sunday two points from passing former Colgate and NBA star Adonal Foyle for sixth in league history.
Lehigh shot only 39 percent in the first half, but upped that to 67 percent in the second. The Mountain Hawks also struggled from the free throw line in the first (50 percent) before improving to 78 percent in the final 20 minutes.
“Despite some adversity, our team was still able to pull together in the second half,” said Reed. “Their energy level didn’t dissipate. They fought through a rut we had in the first half. I give them a lot of credit to be able to keep their poise, keep their confidence level and continue to play offensive basketball.”
Juniors Gabe Knutson and Holden Greiner reached double figures with 15 and 10 points, respectively on an efficient 7-of-11 shooting between the two. McCollum’s 24 came on 8-of-15 from the field while he added 14 boards, just one shy of his career high.
The Mountain Hawks held reigning Patriot League Rookie of the Year J.J. Avila to 11 points while preseason All-League honoree Jordan Sugars posted 15 as the only two Midshipmen to reach double figures.
Lehigh jumped out to an early 9-2 lead before Navy got on the scoreboard via a Brandon Venturini layup with 16:23 on the clock. The Midshipmen pulled within 15-12 following a Thurgood Wynn layup with 12:00 remaining, but the Mountain Hawks used a 7-0 run to take their first double-digit advantage, 22-12, with 10:13 to go. McCollum accounted for all seven of those points, converting a layup, three-pointer, then steal and ensuing dunk.
A Justin Maneri free throw gave Lehigh a 29-21 lead with 2:07 remaining, but the Midshipmen responded by scoring five straight to pull within 29-26 at the half.
Navy did close the game to one (29-28) then back to within three (33-30) with 18:26 left in the second half, but Lehigh used a 9-2 run to re-open a double-digit advantage. Greiner began with a jumper, followed by a Knutson layup, then after a McCollum three-pointer, Knutson knocked down a pair of free throws to make it 42-32 with 15:36 remaining.
The Midshipmen hung around, pulling within eight on multiple occasions (49-41 and 51-43), but the Mountain Hawks used a 10-4 run to open their largest lead of the game, 61-47, following a McCollum layup.
The lead hovered in the low teens before Navy used a mini surge in the final seconds to pull within 71-60 at the final horn.
Lehigh shot 51 percent (21-of-41) from the field, its second straight game over 50 percent. The Mountain Hawks also finished at 44 percent (7-of-16) from three-point range. Navy hit 40 percent (23-of-57) and 28 percent (5-of-18) from long distance. The Midshipmen held a 35-31 edge on the glass.
Lehigh plays game two of its three-game homestand on Sunday when it welcomes Army for a 2 p.m. tipoff. The game will be part of Coaches vs. Cancer Suits and Sneakers Awareness Weekend to raise awareness and funds for cancer research. Tickets for all home games may be purchased on Lehighsports.com or by calling the ticket office at (610) 7LU-GAME.