BETHLEHEM, Pa. - The Lehigh men’s basketball jumped out to a 20-point halftime lead then held on in the second to beat Fordham, 81-63 on Tuesday evening in Stabler Arena. The win marks the Mountain Hawks’ sixth in a row as they improve to 7-2, equaling their best record after nine games since the 1980-81 season. All five starters posted double-figure points, led by 21 from junior Mackey McKnight.
“There were times when I thought our defense was very good, but it would’ve been much better if we finished the defensive possession and got the rebound. That was a struggle in its own right,” said Lehigh head coach Brett Reed. “Fordham’s individual athleticism was very impressive and with that said, they were also pretty good at penetration which made us a little more vulnerable on the glass.”
It marked the third time in McKnight’s career that he reached the 20-point plateau as he finished 7-of-11 from the field while adding five assists as well. Eight of his points came in the game’s final 3:04, helping Lehigh fight off a Fordham comeback attempt.
Senior Gabe Knutson scored 18 points to reach 1,238 for his career. In the process, he moved from 19th to 17th in school history, passing Austen Rowland (1,230) and Norm Brandl (1,231). Seniors Holden Greiner and C.J. McCollum posted 13 points apiece while junior Anthony D’Orazio added a season-high 10 points to go with a career-high six assists and four steals.
“I really though Holden’s energy, particularly in the first half, was phenomenal,” said Reed. “Anthony played really well and answered the call, playing at both ends of the floor and capitalizing on open shots.”
Fordham held a 42-27 advantage in rebounds led by eight from center Ryan Canty, who also posted 14 points. Bryan Smith finished with 17 points and seven boards. The Mountain Hawks held a 28-4 edge in fast break points, including a 17-0 edge in the first half.
McCollum took a nice feed from Knutson on the game’s first possession, finishing the layup to make it 2-0. After Knutson scored three straight, Fordham scored its first points with 16:35 on the clock before McCollum answered with a three-pointer and fast break layup on back-to-back possessions to make it 10-2 with 15:18 remaining in the first half.
The Mountain Hawks continued to push in transition, extending their lead to 16-6 with 13:54 to go as a D’Orazio fast break layup forced an early Fordham timeout.
A three-pointer by Branden Frazier pulled the Rams within 18-9, but Greiner immediately answered with a three on the other end to make it 21-9 with 12:09 remaining. Fordham pulled within 21-12, but D’Orazio found Knutson twice on fast break (with a Rams’ timeout in between) to put Lehigh up 25-12.
The Rams pulled within 28-18 following a Canty offensive rebound and layup, but Lehigh scored 11 of the next 15 points to open a 39-22 advantage following a Greiner three-pointer and two McKnight free throws. A Greiner three-point play with 39 seconds on the clock made it 44-24, which stood as the halftime score.
Lehigh’s starters accounted for all 44 first-half points, led by 13 from Greiner, 11 from Knutson, seven from D’Orazio and McCollum and six from McKnight. The Mountain Hawks shot 53 percent from the field in the first while scoring 17 fast break points to none for the Rams.
Fordham came out of the locker room strong, scoring nine of the first 13 points, forcing Reed to call an early timeout. A Jermaine Myers jumper pulled Fordham within 44-29, but the Mountain Hawks answered with a McCollum steal and layup then McKnight fast break layup off another nifty feed from D’Orazio, making it 48-29. However, the Rams came back with the next four to again pull within 15 (48-33) which forced Reed’s timeout.
Lehigh answered with an 8-2 run capped off by a Knutson three-point play to make it 56-35 with 12:39 remaining.
The Rams again responded with the next five to pull back within 56-40, but the run was ended by two free throws from sophomore Conroy Baltimore with 11:15 to go, Lehigh’s first bench points of the evening. That sparked a mini 6-0 run which included a layup from McKnight and two McCollum free throws to give Lehigh its largest lead of the game (62-40) with 9:18 on the clock.
However, Fordham answered in a big way, posting a 19-6 run over the next 5:23 to pull within single digits for the first time since midway through the first half. A Frazier jumper made it 68-59 with 3:55 remaining.
Lehigh had an answer as D’Orazio knocked down a big three-pointer with 3:32 to go off a nice feed from McCollum. D’Orazio then snatched a rebound on the defensive end and led McKnight for a three-point play on the fast break. Less than a minute later, McKnight finished a three-point play on an impressive individual effort to cap off a 9-0 run and make it 77-59 with 2:19 left in the second.
Lehigh closed it out from there, eclipsing 80 points for the third time in the last four games and fifth time this season.
The Mountain Hawks finished at 50 percent from the field (29-of-58) and 33 percent from three-point range (6-of-18). Fordham shot 43 percent (26-of-61) and 25 percent from long range (4-of-16). The Rams won the battle of the boards, 42-27.
Lehigh will head to Saint Francis (Pa.) on Saturday to face the Red Flash at 2 p.m. in the final game before final exams. The Mountain Hawks will have 12 days between games before heading to North Texas on Dec. 20.
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Individual and season tickets are on sale and may be purchased on Lehighsports.com, over the phone (610-758-4263) or in-person at Stabler Arena, Monday-through-Friday between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.