LEWISBURG, Pa. - After struggling for much of the game, junior C.J. McCollum stepped up when it mattered most, knocking down a tiebreaking three-pointer with 0.5 seconds remaining to give the Lehigh men’s basketball team a thrilling 56-53 comeback win at Bucknell Thursday night. The victory propels the Mountain Hawks to 20-7 overall, and 8-3 in Patriot League play while the Bison fall to 20-7 and 10-1 in the league. In doing so, Lehigh snapped Bucknell’s 12-game winning streak and gave Bucknell its first home Patriot League loss since 2010.
The Mountain Hawks were down 51-44 with less than five minutes remaining before outscoring the Bison, 9-2 the rest of the way to give Lehigh 20 wins for the fourth time in program history and second in the last three seasons.
“This was a tremendously hard-fought game,” said Lehigh head coach Brett Reed. “It could’ve gone both ways. We were fortunate to have the ball in our hands at the end. Our defense kept us in it and a big shot ultimately sealed it.”
McCollum finished with 15 points and seven rebounds, scoring 11 of those points after halftime. Senior John Adams had a big first half, scoring all nine points in the first stanza, while sophomore Mackey McKnight came on in the second to finish with 10 points, four rebounds and three assists. Senior Jordan Hamilton also added eight, including some big points down the stretch.
Joe Willman led Bucknell with 19 points while Cameron Ayers added 13 and Mike Muscala had 10.
Down by seven, the Mountain Hawks regrouped at a timeout.
“We had to gather ourselves collectively and look at what we were doing,” said Reed. “The point of the timeout was to make sure we pulled together. I’m proud of our guys for really doing that.”
A McCollum jumper, then two Hamilton free throws pulled Lehigh right back within 51-48 with 4:29 on the clock. Hamilton then cut the deficit to two, 51-49. Willman put the Bison up four, but two McCollum free throws and a driving layup from McKnight tied the score at 53 with just over one minutes remaining. A big defensive stand forced a Muscala miss, which set McCollum up for his heroics.
Bucknell jumped out to a 4-0 lead behind a pair of buckets from Willman before the Mountain Hawks responded with a pair of Gabe Knutson free throws, then a McKnight jumper, to even the score with 16:54 on the clock.
Ayers responded with a jumper to propel a 7-0 Bucknell run, which senior Justin Maneri ended with a putback on the offensive glass to snap a 4:23 scoreless drought. That made it 11-6 with 12:31 left in the first half.
The Bison went back ahead 13-6, but the Mountain Hawks staged an 8-0 run, six from Adams, to take their first lead of the game, 14-13, following an Adams three-point play. Maneri had kept the play alive with one of his four offensive rebounds.
Bucknell eventually went ahead 20-16 following an Ayers three-pointer, but sophomore B.J. Bailey answered on the other end with a trey of his own to pull within 20-19 with 4:05 on the clock. After a quick Bison basket, McCollum answered just eight seconds later with a big dunk for his first field goal of the evening.
The Bison reopened a four-point advantage, but the Mountain Hawks clawed back to tie the score at 27 following a Holden Greiner three-pointer with 1:48 left in the first, Lehigh’s second trey in as many possessions.
However, Bucknell converted on its last opportunity with an offensive rebound then Ryan Hill bank shot to make it 29-27 at the half.
The Bison went up 31-27, but Lehigh responded with a 6-0 run to take only its second lead of the game. Hamilton knocked down a three from the top of the key before McKnight hit a layup, then a pair of free throws to make it 34-31.
Bucknell came back with five straight, but McKnight finished a runner in the lane, scoring Lehigh’s sixth straight point before McCollum responded with a jumper to make it 40-38 with 12:53 on the clock.
But that’s when the Mountain Hawks went into a cold spell, going 3:29 without a point before a Knutson layup evened the score at 42 with 9:24 on the clock. Bucknell went on a 9-2 run, however, which included four from Willman, to make it 51-44 approaching five minutes remaining to set up Lehigh’s final run.
The Mountain Hawks finished at 33 percent from the floor (17-of-51) and 26 percent from three-point range (6-of-23) while Bucknell shot 37 percent (21-of-57) and 19 percent from long range (3-of-16). The Bison won the battle of the boards, 39-32.
“It’s definitely a momentum swing for us, an emotional game heading into another emotional game Saturday [against Lafayette],” said Reed.
The Mountain Hawks will return home on Saturday for their Senior Day game vs. archrival Lafayette on CBS Sports Network. Tipoff is set for 4 p.m. Tickets for all home games may be purchased on Lehighsports.com or by calling the ticket office at (610) 7LU-GAME.