BETHLEHEM, Pa. - The Lehigh men’s basketball team took a one-point halftime lead and extended it in the second, opening its largest lead of the game (13) late in regulation before closing out a 73-66 win over Penn on Tuesday night in Stabler Arena. Lehigh finishes the NIT Season Tip-Off with a 3-1 record, beating three teams who won 20 or more games last season in Robert Morris, Fairfield and Penn. Four Mountain Hawks finished with double-figure points, paced by senior C.J. McCollum who posted a game-high 21.
“There was a tremendous amount of pressure on the basketball tonight,” said Lehigh head coach Brett Reed. “Penn was an aggressive team; this was a hard-fought win. We were able to penetrate and capitalize on some opportunities, but weren’t able to convert on every occasion. I think a big difference in the game was the energy plays we were able to get in the second half.”
McCollum’s 21 points came via 8-of-19 shooting, while he also added four rebounds and three assists. He only needs 23 points to break the Patriot League career scoring record (currently 2,224, held by Holy Cross’ Rob Feaster). Classmate Gabe Knutson posted his fourth-career double-double, finishing with 18 points and 10 rebounds. He was an efficient 6-of-7 from the field and 6-of-7 from the free throw line.
“It was really important for us to establish an interior presence with Gabe Knutson which got them in some foul difficulty early in the game,” said Reed. “Everyone played off him and C.J.”
Junior Mackey McKnight and senior Holden Greiner also finished in double figures with 15 and 13, respectively.
“We know we’ll get point production from C.J. McCollum, but there are opportunities with other good players on the floor to give our team a balance,” said Reed. “He has trust in his teammates and they have confidence in themselves.”
Lehigh jumped on Penn early, taking a 10-2 lead following a McCollum jumper with 15:55 left in the first half. The senior class combined for all 10 points, led by four each from McCollum and Knutson along with a fastbreak layup from Greiner.
The Quakers answered with the next five to pull within 10-7, but McCollum responded with a three. Less than a minute later, McKnight knocked down a three of his own to make it 16-9 with 13:31 on the clock.
Penn responded with a 13-3 run to open its first lead of the game as a Miles Cartwright layup made it 22-19 with 9:22 to go in the first. After a Corey Schaefer jumper, Greiner made an emphatic block on the defensive end which led to a McKnight fastbreak layup, giving Lehigh the lead once again at 23-22.
The Quakers scored the next five, but Lehigh posted a 6-0 run which included layups by Greiner and McCollum, with a pair Knutson free throws in between. That made it 29-27 Mountain Hawks with 5:22 left in the first.
Penn scored the next four, but Anthony D’Orazio hit a three with 32 seconds remaining to give Lehigh a 32-31 lead at the half.
McCollum posted a game-high 11 first-half points while Knutson added seven and five boards. The Mountain Hawks shot 43 percent from the field (13-of-30), but just 27 percent from three-point range (3-of-11). Penn shot 50 percent (13-of-26) and 38 percent from long range (3-of-8).
The teams traded baskets over the opening minutes of the second half before Lehigh used a mini 4-0 surge to take a 42-37 lead. McKnight dove to the floor for a loose ball on the defensive end and found McCollum who fed Greiner ahead on the break to get the crowd on its feet.
A layup by McCollum with 14:26 left in the second gave Lehigh a 46-39 lead, Lehigh’s largest lead since it was 16-9.
The teams traded baskets before McKnight hit a three from the corner to give Lehigh a 51-41 advantage with 13:27 to go, the Mountain Hawks’ first double-digit lead of the game.
A three-point play by Knutson gave Lehigh its largest lead, 56-45, with 9:32 on the clock but Penn answered with the next four points to quickly pull back within seven. However, a 9-3 run extended Lehigh’s lead to 13 (65-52) following a McKnight free throw with 3:48 remaining.
The Quakers promptly answered with an 8-2 run to pull to 67-60, but the Mountain Hawks wouldn’t let them get any closer. They extended their lead back to 10 (72-62) before holding on for the 73-66 victory.
Lehigh finished at 46 percent from the floor (24-of-52), including 27 percent from three-point range (4-of-15). Penn shot 41 percent (24-of-58) and 28 percent from long distance (5-of-18). The Quakers won the battle of the boards, 39-31.
The Mountain Hawks will return to action on Sunday when they travel to Sacred Heart to face the Pioneers. Opening tip is set for 2 p.m. Lehigh will then face Quinnipiac in Hamden, Conn. Next Tuesday (Nov. 27).
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