DENTON, Texas - Without the nation’s leading scorer, the Lehigh men’s basketball team came together for one of its most impressive wins of the season, defeating North Texas 90-75 on Thursday evening. Down 21-18 midway through the first half, the Mountain Hawks scored 34 of the final 46 first-half points to pull away. Senior Gabe Knutson paced the offense with 28 points while junior Mackey McKnight scored a career-high 25 and tied a season-high seven assists.
Despite a 12-day layoff between games, Lehigh extended its winning streak to eight as the Mountain Hawks improve to 9-2 after 11 games. It marks their best start after 11 games since the 1925-26 season (87 years) while the eight-game winning streak is their longest (in the regular season) since that same campaign.
Senior C.J. McCollum was out of the lineup due to a mild ankle injury. It marked the first game of his collegiate career that he’s missed; he appeared in 109 straight to begin his Lehigh career.
“We’ve done a nice job of sharing the basketball,” said Lehigh head coach Brett Reed. “We’ve gotten multiple people involved. Gabe’s offensive outburst in the first half was terrific. That really sparked everyone else.”
Knutson scored 19 first-half points, marking a career high for points in a half. He finished 10-of-14 from the field and 4-of-5 from three-point range as he’s now hit a dazzling 59.4 percent of his field goals this season. In the process, Knutson passed former teammate Zahir Carrington on Lehigh’s all-time scoring list; Knutson is now 15th in school history with 1,284 career points, which also bumped him two spots to 48th in Patriot League history.
Knutson battled North Texas’ Tony Mitchell, a 2013 NBA Draft prospect. Mitchell was strong with 22 points on 8-of-13 shooting to go with nine rebounds while Alzee Williams added 20 points and Jordan Williams had 12.
“Take nothing away from Tony Mitchell, he’s a tremendous player, but I thought Gabe took the limelight this evening,” said Reed. “We knew someone would have to step up with the absence of C.J. I thought we could do it collectively, but I was really pleased to see Gabe come to the forefront like he did. “
McKnight’s 25-point effort marked a career high as he finished 8-of-18 from the field and 7-of-9 from the free throw line while adding four rebounds and a season-high tying seven assists. It came in front of numerous family members as McKnight is originally from Houston, Texas.
Senior Holden Greiner was strong with 15 points and a team-high eight rebounds while junior Anthony D’Orazio contributed eight points and a career-high seven boards. Junior B.J. Bailey made his season debut, posting three points and five rebounds in 23 minutes of action while sophomore Corey Schaefer added a spark off the bench with eight points.
“Corey is always in the right spot doing the right thing,” said Reed. “He’s Mr. Dependable, Mr. Reliable. He was guarding some tremendous perimeter players, making a big stop and making some key plays offensively as well. I really liked what I saw from him.”
Both offenses struggled in the early going as Greiner scored the game’s first points with 17:37 left in the first half. A pair of Knutson free throws made it 4-0 before Mitchell scored got North Texas on the scoreboard with 15:55 remaining.
With Lehigh up 6-4, Schaefer scored eight straight Lehigh points. He knocked down two consecutive threes before converting a driving bank shot to give the Mountain Hawks a 14-10 lead with 12:35 on the clock.
North Texas answered with six straight points capped off by a Jordan Williams fastbreak dunk to give the Mean Green their first lead (16-14), forcing Reed to call timeout.
A D’Orazio three quickly gave Lehigh a 17-16 lead while Knutson’s first of three first-half treys gave the Mountain Hawks a 23-21 advantage. That came with 8:24 left in the first half, giving Lehigh a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
Knutson’s three helped sparked an incredible Lehigh run. After a Mitchell dunk made it 21-18 North Texas, the Mountain Hawks scored 34 of the next 46 points spanning the final 10:16 of the first half.
Another Knutson trey made it 28-23. Lehigh finished the first half with 12 assists on 19 baskets as the impressive team play was evident throughout. One example came with 5:34 remaining as McKnight finished a backdoor cut and layup from Bailey to make it 34-25.
Greiner gave Leigh its first double-digit lead as a free throw made it 37-27. Less than a minute later, Bailey knocked down a trey with 3:04 to go for a 44-29 lead.
Knutson’s third three-pointer of the first half made it 49-31 with less than a minute remaining. Jacob Holmen had a dunk with three seconds to go, but McKnight knocked down a half-court shot with time winding down to give Lehigh a 52-33 lead following 20 minutes of play.
Knutson led the way with 19 first-half points on 7-of-9 shooting and 3-of-4 from three-point range. McKnight added 10 while Schaefer had eight, Greiner seven and D’Orazio five. Mitchell and Alzee Williams combined for 23 of the Mean Green’s 33 first-half points. Lehigh shot 53 percent in the first half (19-of-36) to North Texas’ 33 percent (12-of-36).
Greiner scored on the first possession of the second half, but North Texas responded with one of its most spirited runs of the game. The Mean Green scored six in a row and eight of the next 10 to make it 56-41 following a Holmen jumper with 17:09 remaining.
Lehigh had an answer as Knutson finished a dunk and D’Orazio knocked down a three to give the Mountain Hawks a 20-point lead once again (61-41).
North Texas again pulled within 15 at 67-52 following a Roger Franklin dunk. Knutson answered with his fourth three of the evening to make it 70-52. Less than two minutes later, Greiner converted a fastbreak layup just 13 seconds after knocking down a pair of free throws. That gave Lehigh a 20-point lead again (77-56) with 8:31 left in the second.
The Mountain Hawks continued to extend their lead as two McKnight free throws gave them their largest lead at 85-61 with 5:16 remaining.
The Mean Green ended the game on a 14-5 run, but it wasn’t nearly enough as Lehigh easily hung on for the 90-75 victory.
Lehigh finished at 49 percent from the field (32-of-66) and 48 percent from three-point range (11-of-23). North Texas shot 38 percent (27-of-71) and nine percent from long range (1-of-11). The Mean Green won the battle of the boards, 48-36.
The Mountain Hawks’ 90 points marked a season high against North Texas while Knutson’s 28 points were the most by a North Texas opponent.
The Mountain Hawks will return to action after the holiday when they host Bryant on Saturday, Dec. 29 at 7 p.m. Lehigh will head to VCU a week later (Jan. 5) in a game set for NBC Sports Network.
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