Posted: 02/18/2013 | Last updated: February 18, 2013 at 10:06 PM
BETHLEHEM, Pa. – Despite struggling from the free throw line and behind the three-point arc, the Lehigh men’s basketball team hung tough and nearly won its fourth straight over Bucknell, but the Bison had just enough to edge the Mountain Hawks (18-7, 8-3 Patriot League), 61-55 on Monday evening. Junior Mackey McKnight and senior Holden Greiner led the way with 17 points apiece as the road team won for the fifth straight game in this highly-contested series.
“If I would have told you at the beginning of the game that we would shoot six for 15 from the free throw line, we’d make one three out of our 15 attempts, the odds of us winning the game would be significantly low,” said Lehigh head coach Brett Reed. “Especially with the way Bucknell protects the paint, utilizing the perimeter shot and converting from the free throw line is extremely important. Yet despite those awful numbers, we’re in position to potentially win.
“If we made more free throws and made a couple more shots, we’d be in a really good position feeling really good about ourselves,” Reed continued. “We had some breakdowns, but all in all, our guys played with a lot of effort and intensity.”
Greiner scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half, which included one stretch of 11 straight Lehigh points to help trim an 11-point deficit to four. He finished 8-of-15 from the field while adding seven rebounds and a team-high four assists. McKnight scored 10 of his points in the first half while he added six rebounds as well.
The effort came in front of a season-high 3,774 fans, most in Stabler Arena since the 2010 Patriot League Championship Game vs. Lafayette. The Mountain Hawks hung tough despite finishing just 40 percent from the free throw line (6-of-15) and seven percent from three-point range (1-of-15).
Both teams struggled offensively in the early going as Lehigh didn’t score its first point until 16:14 on the clock as a Gabe Knutson free throw snapped a 7-0 Bucknell run to start the game. The teams went back and forth as a Stefan Cvrkalj jumper pulled Lehigh within 11-7 with 9:19 to go. The Bison answered with four straight to equal its largest lead of the first half.
With Bucknell leading 19-11, the Mountain Hawks used a 7-0 run capped off by a B.J. Bailey three-pointer to pull Lehigh within one with 2:33 on the clock.
The Bison lead extended to five (23-18), but Lehigh scored the final six first-half points, including a Greiner steal and McKnight fastbreak layup as time expired to give the Mountain Hawks their first lead of the game (24-23) heading into the half.
McKnight led the way with 10 first-half points on 5-of-8 shooting. Knutson added five, Cvrkalj four and Bailey three. Mike Muscala and Brian Fitzpatrick had six points apiece to lead the way for Bucknell.
The teams exchanged leads early in the second with neither side taking more than a three-point advantage until the 11:48 mark when Bryson Johnson hit his second straight three to make it 46-37. The Bison went on to knock down four straight treys and five-of-six as another Johnson three gave Bucknell its largest lead (52-41) with 8:43 on the clock.
Greiner took over from there, scoring 11 straight Lehigh points, all in the post. A McKnight jumper pulled the Mountain Hawks within 54-50 with 4:51 remaining while a Knutson free throw made it a three-point game with 3:02 on the clock. Bucknell extended its lead to seven (58-51) with 1:57 to go, but the Mountain Hawks wouldn’t go quietly. An Anthony D’Orazio jumper made it 58-55 with 51 seconds remaining.
On the ensuing possession, Lehigh played strong defense, forcing Cameron Ayers to throw up a runner, which went down, to give Bucknell a 60-55 lead with just 13 seconds remaining, all but icing it.
The Mountain Hawks finished at 40 percent from the field (24-of-60) and seven percent from long distance (1-of-15). Bucknell shot 41 percent (22-of-54) and 35 percent from three (6-of-17). The Bison won the battle of the boards, 42-35.
Lehigh will return to action in six days when it travels to Lafayette on Sunday to face the Leopards. Tipoff is set for 12 p.m. on CBS Sports Network.
“We’ve got a stretch coming up where we have to play very good basketball, but so do all the other teams in the league,” said Reed. “We’re getting into the home stretch. I’m sure our guys are really going to be anxious to get a ball in their hand and take extra shots as well. I think it’s a bit of an abnormality that we shot the way we did, but at the end of the day, that’s the way it works out.”
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