PITTSBURGH, Pa. - The Lehigh men’s basketball team raced to an 15-point halftime lead and only extended it from there, downing Robert Morris 89-60 on Monday night in the NIT Season Tip-Off. With the win, the Mountain Hawks advance to Tuesday’s regional final vs. host Pittsburgh at 9 p.m. on ESPNU. Five Lehigh players scored in double figures while two others came within a point.
“Offensively, for us to have balance makes us that much more difficult to cover,” said Lehigh head coach Brett Reed. “The fact that we had multiple players in double figures and many different contributions was critical. If we get perimeter shooting as we got today, get a little bit of balance from interior play, get a couple offensive rebounds and use dribble penetration, now we’re starting to round out our offensive game. That makes us pretty effective and ultimately helps us put a high number of points on the board.”
Senior C.J. McCollum led the way with 19 points while junior Mackey McKnight had 15, seniors Gabe Knutson and Holden Greiner 12 and sophomore Stefan Cvrkalj 11. Greiner grabbed a team-high seven rebounds while McKnight dished seven assists, his most since last Mar. 3 vs. American. McCollum had a strong overall game, scoring his 19 points on 8-of-15 shooting while adding four rebounds and four assists as well.
The 29-point win marked Lehigh’s largest margin of victory since beating Arcadia 95-55 last Dec. 12. Lehigh saw five players reach double figures for the first time since Jan. 22, 2011 when it had five at Lafayette. Ten different Mountain Hawks scored, including freshman Justin Goldsborough’s first-career point via a late free throw, while senior Cory Goodman posted four for his first points of the season.
The teams went back and forth through the opening minutes until Lehigh used a dominant run to take a double-digit halftime lead. After Mike McFadden scored the game’s first points, junior Anthony D’Orazio knocked down a three to give Lehigh a 3-2 lead with 18:29 on the clock.
McFadden scored his third basket of the game with 16:10 remaining to give the Colonials an 8-7 lead. Reed immediately called timeout and the Mountain Hawks responded, promptly going on a 17-3 run over the next 7:28 to open up a 24-11 lead following an offensive rebound and putback from sophomore Conroy Baltimore.
Lehigh continued the run, getting points from seven different players in the first half. Cvrkalj’s corner three rolled around the rim and fell through with 3:55 remaining to give Lehigh its largest lead of the first half at 33-16. Robert Morris answered with five straight points, but another Cvrkalj trey put the Mountain Hawks back up 36-21 with 2:41 on the clock.
The teams traded baskets the rest of the half to make it 38-23 after 20 minutes. Cvrkalj was the story of the first half, scoring nine points behind 3-of-3 from long range, while McCollum scored eight, Knutson posted seven and McKnight added six.
Lehigh gradually built its lead in the second half, eventually opening a 20-point lead. Velton Jones pulled Robert Morris within 14 at 46-32, but the Mountain Hawks answered with an 10-2 run. It began with a Greiner three-pointer and also included three Knutson free throws and a McCollum basket. The run was capped off by a Corey Schaefer fastbreak layup to make it 56-34 with 11:48 remaining.
A Greiner fastbreak dunk made it 60-36 with 10:20 to go while McKnight scored four points in a 20-second span to give Lehigh a 26-point lead (66-40) with 7:46 on the clock.
Robert Morris scored the next four points, but the Mountain Hawks quickly answered by opening a 72-47 advantage following a McCollum steal and layup with 5:54 to go in the half. McCollum had knocked down his first three-pointer of the game less than a minute prior.
McCollum hit a tough jumper not long after to put Lehigh up 76-50. The Mountain Hawks continued to battle as a D’Orazio three-pointer with 3:40 remaining gave Lehigh a 82-53 lead. Goldsborough knocked down a free throw 47 seconds later for his first career point to make it a 30-point lead. Cvrkalj ensued with a steal and layup to give him 11 points and Lehigh a 32-point, 85-53 advantage.
Goodman had four points down the points via a free throw and three, as the Mountain Hawks wrapped up the 89-60 win.
Lehigh finished at 52 percent from the field (31-of-60) and 46 percent from three-point range (11-of-24). Robert Morris shot 34 percent (21-of-62) and 18 percent from long range (4-of-22). The Colonials won the battle of the boards, 43-37.
Lehigh will return to action in just 24 hours as it takes on host Pittsburgh Tuesday at 9 p.m. with a berth in the NIT Semifinals at Madison Square Garden on the line. The game will be broadcast live on ESPNU.
“We’re playing a team that prides itself on defense, prides itself on toughness and has excellent size,” said Reed. “What we might lack in physical size, I hope that we certainly make up for with our heart and our togetherness. Help cover for each other, particularly on the defensive end.”
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