LORETTO, Pa. - Lehigh opened the game on a 13-0 run and held off Saint Francis the rest of the way as the Mountain Hawks won their seventh straight game on Saturday, 83-67. With the win, Lehigh is off to its best start after 10 games (8-2) since 1938-39. Senior C.J. McCollum led the way with 29 points, falling just one shy of his fourth 30-point game of the season.
“Starting the game with the right type of focus and energy is critically important to our overall success,” said Lehigh head coach Brett Reed. “I thought our early lead was critical in this game. Saint Francis played very competitively and has been in a lot of games. Being able to establish ourselves early was important in order to set the tone, hopefully hold down some of their confidence and allow us to play to our comfort level.”
McCollum’s 29 points came on 8-of-15 shooting and a perfect 11-of-11 from the free throw line. He also tied a season high with nine rebounds. Senior Gabe Knutson added 18 points while junior Mackey McKnight had 13. Knutson jumped one spot on the Lehigh all-time scoring list (to 16th) while he jumped five spots (from 55th to 50th) on the Patriot League list as he currently owns 1,256 career points.
The win extended the Mountain Hawks’ winning streak to 11 vs. NEC foes. In the process, Lehigh eclipsed 80 points for the fourth time in its last five games.
The Mountain Hawks got off to a fast start, scoring the game’s first 13 points to take a commanding 13-0 lead. McCollum assisted on the first two baskets, first a Knutson layup then McKnight layup on a homerun pass down court. Baskets by Anthony D’Orazio and Knutson made it 8-0 while McCollum added a jumper and three-pointer to make it 13-0 with 14:16 remaining in the first half.
Saint Francis had an answer, scoring its first points of the afternoon with 13:52 on the clock, then following with four more to pull within 13-6.
Lehigh answered with a 9-2 run capped off by two Conroy Baltimore free throws to make it 22-8 with 9:57 on the clock.
However, the Red Flash came right back with an 8-0 run including two of Dominique Major’s three first-half threes. That quickly pulled Saint Francis within 22-16 with 8:57 to play.
After trading three-pointers, Lehigh staged a mini 7-0 run to open a double-digit lead once again at 32-19 following an emphatic Greiner dunk and McCollum three-point play with 6:40 on the clock.
The Mountain Hawks opened their largest lead of the half (16) following a Greiner three off a nice feed from Corey Schaefer which made it 41-25 with 2:30 remaining in the first. Lehigh went into halftime with a 43-28 advantage, the fifth time in the last six halves that it’s scored 40 or more points.
McCollum and McKnight each scored 10 first-half points while Knutson added eight and Greiner had five. Lehigh shot 58 percent from the field (15-of-26) including 40 percent from three-point range (4-of-10). Saint Francis shot 37 percent (11-of-30) and 33 percent from long distance (4-of-12).
McKnight opened the second half with a three to make it 46-28, but the Red Flash scored the next seven to pull within 46-35 following an Anthony Ervin three-point play with 18:05 remaining. Lehigh had an answer, going on a 9-1 run capped off by a transition three from McCollum off a nifty feed from McKnight. That gave the Mountain Hawks their first 20-point lead of the afternoon at 55-35 with 16:03 to play, forcing Saint Francis to call timeout.
The Red Flash scored the next four, but McCollum answered with four straight to reopen a 20-point, 59-39 lead. Saint Francis again scored four straight, but Lehigh responded to open up a 20-point margin once again as a Stefan Cvrkalj trey made it 67-47 forcing a Saint Francis timeout with 7:59 to play.
A Knutson three made it 72-52 with 6:31 remaining, but the Red Flash had one last gasp, scoring 12 of the next 17 points as an Umar Shannon three-pointer made it 77-64 with 3:06 remaining. McCollum answered with a big jumper then two free throws to end any hopes the Red Flash had. Lehigh went on for the 83-67 victory.
Lehigh finished at 50 percent from the field (25-of-50), its third straight game of at least 50 percent shooting. The Mountain Hawks were 45 percent from three-point range (9-of-20). Saint Francis finished at 37 percent (22-of-59) and 32 percent from long range (8-of-25). Lehigh won the battle of the boards, 35-29.
Lehigh will have 12 days between games before heading to North Texas on Dec. 20. Tipoff is set for 8 p.m. ET. The Mountain Hawks will return home on Dec. 29 to host Bryant at 7 p.m.
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