BETHLEHEM, Pa. - The Lehigh men’s basketball team jumped out to an early lead and wouldn’t look back, opening a double-digit lead for most of the second half in a dominant 82-67 win over Fairfield on Monday. Senior C.J. McCollum had a dominant effort, scoring 35 points on 12-of-21 shooting including a highlight reel dunk in the second half to send the student section into a frenzy. It marks Lehigh’s second win this season, both over a 20-win team from a season ago as the Mountain Hawks face yet another 20-win squad (Penn) on Tuesday at 8:30 p.m.
“Sometimes it’s difficult to play with a lead, especially against a good team like Fairfield,” said Lehigh head coach Brett Reed. “I thought we had good offensive flow. We were not as disciplined on defense as we needed to be through a small stretch, but fortunately our guys were able to respond and get a couple key stops which allowed us to extend the game.”
McCollum has already posted two games with 35 or more points on the season, scoring a season-high 36 in the opener at Baylor. Senior Gabe Knutson posted 17 points and five rebounds while Holden Greiner fell just three points shy of a double-double, posting seven points and 11 boards.
“We had some good production across the board and continue to get better,” said McCollum. “I think we need to improve on our play in the paint. We gave up way too many second chance points and that’s a killer for us.”
Keith Matthews led Fairfield with 17 points and 10 rebounds as the Stags fall to 2-2 on the season. The Stags have posted 20 or more wins in each of the last three years.
Fairfield jumped out to an early 6-2 lead, but Knutson answered with four straight to tie the score at six following a pair of free throws with 17:29 left in the first half. The Stags extended their lead to 10-7, but McCollum knocked down treys on three straight possessions to put the Mountain Hawks up 16-10 with 13:07 on the clock.
The Stags scored seven of the next nine points to pull within 18-17 following a Josip Mikulic three with 11:12 remaining. From there, the Mountain Hawks went on a 10-3 run, which began with a three from Greiner and ended with McCollum’s fourth trey of the first half, making it 28-20 with 6:51 to go.
An Anthony D’Orazio three gave Lehigh a nine-point lead (33-24) with 4:59 on the clock. The Stags answered to pull within seven, but the Mountain Hawks ended the half scoring seven of the final 11 points to take their first double-digit lead of the game. A pair of Matthews free throws pulled Fairfield within 37-30, but Knutson knocked down a three (Lehigh’s seventh of the first half) to put the Mountain Hawks up 40-30 after 20 minutes.
McCollum scored 21 first-half points on 7-of-11 shooting and 4-of-5 from three-point range. His senior classmates Knutson and Greiner also added seven apiece. The Mountain Hawks shot 52 percent in the first half (12-of-23) including 64 percent from long range (7-of-11). After a hot start, Fairfield was 36 percent (10-of-28) and just 11 percent from three (1-of-9).
Lehigh scored the first seven second-half points behind a Conroy Baltimore three-point play and four straight free throws, making it 47-40 with 17:35 left in the second. Fairfield responded with a 10-3 run, as a three-pointer from Amadou Sidibe pulled the Stags within 50-40, forcing Lehigh to call timeout.
A fastbreak layup from Colin Nickerson pulled Fairfield within 53-44 with 13:31 left in the second, the closest it had been since the latter stages of the first. However, the Mountain Hawks quickly responded, going on a 12-1 run to take a 60-45 lead following a McCollum jumper with 12:04 to go.
Lehigh extended its lead to 64-48, but Fairfield again had an answer, going on a 9-2 run to pull back to single digits (66-57) following a Sidibe layup with 7:14 to go.
The Mountain Hawks wouldn’t let the Stags get any closer, however promptly scoring the next six points, which included an emphatic three-point play from McCollum when he dunked over a Fairfield defender to make it 70-54 with 5:54 left in the second half. The foul was called on Fairfield’s Sidibe, as McCollum converted one of the most exciting old-fashioned three-point plays you’ll see.
Lehigh went on to open an 80-62 lead following a Corey Schaefer trey with 1:51 to go, its largest lead of the game, before finishing off the 82-67 win.
Lehigh finished at 49 percent from the field (25-of-51), including 50 percent from long range (10-of-20). Fairfield shot 41 percent (24-of-58) and 23 percent from three-point range (5-of-21). The Mountain Hawks won the battle of the boards, 35-32.
“I was pleased with the fact that our team came out and played with some energy tonight and when our defense was strong we looked like a terrific team.”
Lehigh will face Penn Tuesday night at 8:30 p.m. following Fairfield vs. Fordham at 6 p.m. The Quakers dropped a 70-68 thrilling to Fordham in the first game of Monday’s doubleheader.
Tickets are now available on Lehighsports.com. Just click here to purchase tickets online or call 610-758-4263. One ticket will be good for both games each day.
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