BETHLEHEM, Pa. - Bryant jumped out to an early lead and Lehigh couldn’t recover as the Mountain Hawks dropped a heartbreaking 80-79 final on Saturday evening in Stabler Arena. The Bulldogs scored the go-ahead basket with 1.3 seconds remaining to snap the Mountain Hawks’ eight-game winning streak and win themselves for the seventh time in their last nine contests. Senior C.J. McCollum returned from injury to score 34 points on 9-of-18 shooting and 6-of-10 from three-point range.
“We have to give Bryant a tremendous amount of credit,” said Lehigh head coach Brett Reed. “They made all the right plays and played with fire and energy. They made their initial shots. They were wide open shots, but they knocked them down. In the second half they drove to the basket and took advantage.”
McCollum eclipsed 30 points for the fourth time this season and first time since Nov. 27 at Quinnipiac. His six made three-pointers were his most since last Jan. 14 at Colgate when he finished 7-of-12. McCollum also knocked down 10-of-11 free throws while adding four rebounds, two assists and two steals.
Senior Holden Greiner posted his third-career double-double (and first since his sophomore season). He finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds, shooting 6-of-10 from the field and 3-of-4 from three-point range. Junior Mackey McKnight added 12 points and seven assists as well.
Bryant was led by Alex Francis who posted a team-leading 21 points and 14 rebounds. Dyami Starks added 20, Frankie Dobbs had 17 (including the game winner) and Joe O’Shea posted 15. Those four combined for 73 of the Bulldogs’ 80 points. Bryant finished at 46 percent from three-point range (12-of-26) led by a strong first half when it shot 56 percent from long distance (9-of-16).
“I think this will hit home that playing defense is critical,” said Reed. “This team has to identify that defense needs to be strong and we have to continue to grow and develop. I think you learn from all experiences. Sometimes you take experiences that come from negative things a little bit more to heart.”
A Greiner layup gave Lehigh an early 7-5 lead, but Bryant answered with a 15-2 run to take a 20-9 advantage following a pair of Francis free throws. The Bulldogs knocked down their first four three-pointers, all coming in that span. Starks had three of them, coming on three straight possessions.
Down 24-14, Lehigh scored seven of the next nine points capped off by a fastbreak layup from sophomore Corey Schaefer off a nifty feed from McKnight. That made it 26-21 with 9:46 to go in the first half.
The Mountain Hawks pulled within a single possession with 5:15 on the clock as a McKnight jumper cut Bryant’s lead to 33-30. The Bulldogs again had an answer, scoring seven of the next 11 to go ahead 41-34 with 2:55 remaining in the first.
Lehigh responded with six straight points to pull within 41-40. Included was a corner three from Anthony D’Orazio off a feed from McCollum. However, an O’Shea trey (his fourth of the half) made it 44-40 after 20 minutes of play.
The story of the first half was Bryant’s shooting as O’Shea was 4-of-5 from long range to pace the attack. The Bulldogs shot 47 percent from the field (15-of-32) and 56 percent from long distance (9-of-16) while Lehigh was 50 percent (15-of-30) and 36 percent from three (4-of-11).
The Mountain Hawks caught fire from three early in the second half as Greiner knocked down a pair and McCollum added another in the first four minutes. Greiner’s second trey gave Lehigh a 49-48 advantage, its first lead since 7-5.
McCollum added a three on the ensuing possession for a four-point margin at 52-48, but the Bulldogs scored 12 of the next 16 points capped off by a Dobbs three then driving layup, which gave Bryant its halftime lead back at four (60-56) with 12:28 remaining.
McCollum knocked down a three from the corner to tie the score at 62, just one possession after he found Cvrkalj for a wide-open three.
Tied at 64, Bryant scored four straight points forcing Lehigh to call timeout after a Starks offensive rebound and putback with 8:03 to play.
Trailing 71-66, Lehigh answered with a 5-0 run capped off by a McCollum three from the top of the key to even the score at 71 with 4:39 on the clock. McCollum went on to score nine straight Lehigh points as another trey gave the Mountain Hawks a 77-75 advantage with 2:01 to play.
The lead was short-lived as Starks answered just 18 seconds later with a trey of his own. McKnight hit two free throws to help Lehigh regain a 79-78 lead, but Dobbs had something to say. With six seconds remaining, he took the inbounds feed and went all the way to the hoop for the go-ahead layup.
After a timeout, junior B.J. Bailey unleashed a full-court heave which senior Gabe Knutson caught underneath the basket. He tried to get a shot off, but it hit the bottom of the rim as Bryant walked away winners for the seventh time in its last nine games.
“We never were able to change our fortunes,” said Reed. “When we were able to make a run, they would return that run and we were never able to close it out at the end.”
Lehigh finished 46 percent from the field (25-of-54) and 48 percent from three-point range (11-of-23). Bryant shot 47 percent (28-of-60) and 46 percent from long distance (12-of-26). The Bulldogs won the battle of the boards, 37-27.
Lehigh will head to VCU next Saturday (Jan. 5) for a 5 p.m. tipoff on NBC Sports Network. The Mountain Hawks return home on Tuesday, Jan. 8 for their final nonleague tilt vs. Muhlenberg.
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.