PITTSBURGH, Pa. - The Lehigh men’s basketball hung tough for much of the first half, but Pittsburgh opened a five-point halftime lead and extended that in the second, downing the Mountain Hawks 78-53 Tuesday night at the Petersen Events Center. With the win, the Panthers advance to the semifinals of the NIT Season Tip-Off while Lehigh will play in a consolation pod next Monday and Tuesday. Those pairings will be announced on Wednesday.
Seniors C.J. McCollum and Gabe Knutson combined for 29 of Lehigh’s 53 points, posting 17 and 12, respectively. McCollum’s effort came on 7-of-11 shooting and 3-of-4 from three-point range while Knutson was 3-of-7 and 6-of-7 from the free throw line. Knutson also grabbed five tough rebounds.
Tray Woodall led the Panthers with 23 points while Talib Zanna added 20. Pitt (3-0) broke open a 35-30 halftime lead by outscoring the Mountain Hawks (1-2) 43-23 in the second half.
“Pitt came out in the second half they were able to get a few great plays from their interior posts,” explained Lehigh head coach Brett Reed. “That was the story of the night. Zanna and Woodall are both excellent players with very good size. We had some defensive miscues, but they were a little bit bigger, a little more physical and wore us down a little bit. Unfortunately in some key stretches we had some turnovers and couldn’t make that key shot to stem the tide.”
McCollum scored Lehigh’s first five points to give the Mountain Hawks a 5-2 lead following a three-pointer with 18:43 remaining. However, Pittsburgh responded with a 10-0 run to take a 12-5 lead following a Lamar Patterson three-point play.
Sophomore Stefan Cvrkalj quickly answered with a three-pointer from the corner then McCollum knocked down a tough shot in the lane to pull within 12-10 with 14:28 to go.
Lehigh eventually extended its run to 11-1 as two Conroy Baltimore free throws gave the Mountain Hawks their first lead (14-13) with 11:41 on the clock before Holden Greiner knocked down a jumper for Lehigh’s largest lead of the first half, 16-13.
The teams went back and forth over the ensuing minutes, but the Mountain Hawks continued to hold their lead. Pittsburgh eventually clawed back to take a one-point advantage at 24-23 following a Zanna jumper with 5:45 to play, but Corey Schaefer answered with a pair of free throws. The Panthers used an 8-3 run over the last 4:26 of the half to break a 27-27 and go into halftime leading 35-30.
Knutson led the way with eight first-half points while McCollum added seven and junior Mackey McKnight and Schaefer chipped in with four apiece. In total, seven different Mountain Hawks scored over the first 20 minutes of play.
Zanna scored Pittsburgh’s first seven points of the second half to help the Panthers extend their lead to 44-35 following a Woodall jumper.
After Greiner knocked down a three to pull Lehigh within 40-35, Pitt responded with a 14-2 run to open a 56-37 lead with 13:22 on the clock.
McCollum answered with a pull-up jumper for his 10th and 11th points of the evening, but the Panthers went on to score four of the next six points and open a 60-39 lead.
Knutson ended a four-minute scoreless drought with a pair of free throws with 8:27 remaining. Pittsburgh opened a 65-41 advantage, but four straight Lehigh points (McKnight free throw and Anthony D’Orazio trey) pulled the Mountain Hawks back within 20 at 65-45.
Lehigh continued to battle as a Baltimore layup pulled Lehigh back within 69-50, but Pittsburgh closed out the game by scoring nine of the game’s final 12 points for the 78-53 win.
“We had some guys who ended up shooting some decent percentages,” Reed said. “Unfortunately what ended up happening was we had some good penetration opportunities, but they had some good challenges at the rim. We didn’t have the opportunity to put enough points on the board to keep us in this game. Pitt did a nice job defensively.”
Lehigh shot 39 percent from the field (16-of-41), including 43 percent from three-point range (6-of-14). Pittsburgh finished at 48 percent (29-of-60) and 25 percent from long range (4-of-16). The Panthers won the battle of the boards, 38-22.
The Mountain Hawks will find out on Wednesday their opponents in the consolation pod of next week’s NIT Season Tip-Off. Check back to Lehighsports.com for complete information.
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