Posted: 03/03/2012 | Last updated: March 4, 2012 at 02:39 PM
BETHLEHEM, Pa. - Behind a sensational all-around effort from junior C.J. McCollum, the Lehigh men’s basketball team used a 17-3 second-half surge to pull away, as the Mountain Hawks (25-7) downed American (20-11), 85-66, in the Patriot League Semifinals on Saturday. McCollum scored 27 points to eclipse 2,000 for his career, while adding 10 rebounds for his 18th career double-double. With the win, Lehigh advances to its second championship game in the last three seasons.
The Mountain Hawks will play at top-seeded Bucknell in the Patriot League Championship Game on Wednesday at 7 p.m. on CBS Sports Network. The top-seeded Bison defeated #5 Lafayette, 79-52, to advance. Tickets will go on sale online at approximtely 7 p.m. Click here to purchase tickets.
“I thought we played stretches of terrific basketball,” said Lehigh head coach Brett Reed. “We were glued in, very intent and very active in our defense. When we were sharing the ball, we were very difficult to defend and guard. We were getting contributions on the interior and making perimeter shots. We were also getting dribble penetration.”
McCollum scored 18 of his 27 points in the second half as the Mountain Hawks extended a six-point halftime advantage by scoring 29 of the first 40 points in the second. He now has 2,001 career points, becoming only the second Lehigh player in school history to reach that plateau; Daren Queenan owns a school-record 2,703.
Sophomore Mackey McKnight also dazzled with 14 points, seven assists and five rebounds, including numerous boards in traffic. Junior Holden Greiner was lights out, scoring 14 points in only 13 minutes off the bench, which included 5-of-8 from the field and 2-of-3 from three-point range. Sophomore B.J. Bailey, junior Gabe Knutson and senior Jordan Hamilton all added eight points apiece.
The Mountain Hawks held a commanding 44-26 edge on the glass, this after getting outrebounded 44-27 the last time the teams met at American.
“The signature of this win was the fact we were able to outrebound an aggressive and physical team and defend to the level that we did,” said Reed. “We went through two consecutive media timeouts in the second half when we gave up two and three points, respectively. We were in an offensive flow, which allowed us to create separation.”
Four Eagles finished in double figures, led by five from Charles Hinkle and Troy Brewer, 14 from Tony Wroblicky and 11 from Daniel Munoz. After Brewer scored 10 points in the game’s first 7:43, the Mountain Hawks shut him down for only five over the final 32:17.
The win gave Lehigh its seventh straight victory, the team’s longest winning streak of the season. The Mountain Hawks also reached 25 victories to tie the most overall wins by a Patriot League team over the past six years.
A back and forth first half saw eight ties and six lead changes, with neither side leading by more than six. After American jumped out to a 6-2 lead, Lehigh responded with a mini 6-0 run of its own to make it 8-6 after a McCollum jumper.
The Eagles eventually opened a 16-13 advantage after Brewer knocked down a trey with 12:17 remaining; at that point, Brewer had already scored 10 points. The teams went back and forth, but Lehigh couldn’t regain the lead until 5:06 on the clock when McKnight converted a layup to make it 21-20.
With the Eagles on top 28-26, Lehigh used an 8-0 run to end the half, which began with threes from McKnight and Bailey, and concluded with a last-second offensive rebound and putback from freshman Stefan Cvrkalj, to make it 34-28 after 20 minutes of play.
Lehigh scored six of the first eight second-half points to open its first double-digit lead, 40-30, after a McCollum layup with 17:34 remaining. American clawed back within eight, 42-34, but that’s when the Mountain Hawks began to catch fire. A pair of McKnight free throws extended the lead to 12, but Hinkle answered with a jumper on the other end to make it 46-36 with 13:48 remaining.
From there, Lehigh staged an impressive 17-3 run over the next 5:52, which included seven points from McCollum and five from Bailey, capped off by a Greiner jumper to make it 63-39 with 7:56 on the clock, effectively ending any hopes the Eagles had.
Lehigh eventually opened up a 26-point lead on multiple occasions before American scored the game’s final six points for the 85-66 final.
The Mountain Hawks were red-hot in the second half, shooting 62 percent (18-of-29) and 30 percent from three-point range (6-of-12) to up their game numbers to 54 percent (32-of-59) and 44 percent (10-of-23), respectively. American finished at 37 percent (23-of-63) and 32 percent from long distance (8-of-25). Lehigh dominated the boards, 44-26.
The second-seeded Mountain Hawks will travel to top-seeded Bucknell for the Patriot League Championship Game. The title game is set for Wednesday at 7 p.m. on CBS Sports Network.