Posted: 03/18/2012 | Last updated: March 26, 2012 at 10:12 AM
GREENSBORO, N.C. – Bidding to become the first No. 15 seed to reach the sweet sixteen, Lehigh led Xavier by as many as 15 in the first half and by four at halftime, but the Musketeers used a 20-2 run and capitalized on cold Lehigh shooting to rally past the Mountain Hawks 70-58 Sunday at Greensboro Coliseum.
Sophomore Mackey McKnight scored a season-high 20 points to lead the Mountain Hawks, but Lehigh made just 5-of-34 field goals in the second half as its school record-setting season comes to an end at 27-8.
Juniors C.J. McCollum (14 points) and Gabe Knutson (11) joined McKnight in double figures, but Kenny Frease scored a career-high 25 points and added 12 rebounds, while Tu Holloway added 21 to lead the No. 10 seed Musketeers into the regional semifinals, where they will face No. 3 seed Baylor in Atlanta.
“I sit here in front of you disappointed, but very proud,” said Lehigh head coach Brett Reed. “I’m very proud of the young men I’ve had the opportunity to coach throughout the course of this season. I’m proud to be able to represent Lehigh University in the NCAA tournament and the Patriot League and the wonderful academic institution that we are as well.
Reed continued, “There are many things we can draw on from this season. Certainly I’m disappointed with the last 25-28 minutes of the game; however, that does not take away some of the memories that I believe our team will have, these young men will have moving forward as byproduct of their experience together.”
McKnight was the catalyst for Lehigh in the first half, leading all scorers with 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting. The sophomore out of New Orleans scored seven of Lehigh’s first nine points as the Mountain Hawks led 9-4 at the first media time out.
Xavier hung around early thanks to a pair of three pointers from Dee Davis, but a McKnight three pointer and a McCollum layup forced a Musketeer time out. Lehigh used a 12-2 run to increase its lead as high as a Knutson dunk on a pretty feed from sophomore B.J. Bailey gave the Mountain Hawks their largest lead at 29-14.
McCollum went to the bench with his second foul with just over seven minutes remaining and from there, Xavier began to battle its way back. The Musketeers closed the half on a 13-2 run as Mark Lyons knocked down a long three and then after a pretty feed from McKnight to Knutson for a dunk, Holloway knocked down a three in the waning seconds off the half to cut Lehigh’s advantage to 37-33 at the break.
“They (Xavier) just went on a little run,” McCollum said. “Basketball is a game of runs so that happens throughout the course of the game. I thought the guys did a great job of sustaining the run and we kept the lead going into halftime.”
Aside from McKnight’s 14 points, Knutson scored eight, while McCollum and senior John Adams contributed four apiece. Lehigh shot 53 percent from the field but just 2-of-7 from beyond the arc. Xavier shot 46 percent in the first 20 minutes and was led by 12 points from Kenny Frease. The Mountain Hawks won the rebounding battle in the first half 16-14 with Greiner leading the way with five caroms.
Xavier started the second half hot, as Frease scored the first five points on a conventional three-point play followed by a fast break layup to give the Musketeers a 38-37 lead.
A sign of second half struggles for Lehigh, the Mountain Hawks missed their first ten field goal attempts while five straight Holloway points gave Xavier a 47-40 lead with under 14 minutes to play.
Lehigh refused to go quietly, battling back to tie the game at 50 with 10:33 to play on a pair of McKnight free throws and a McCollum pull-up jumper on the fast break.
Another McCollum jumper with just over eight minutes remaining tied the game at 52, but it was Holloway who put Xavier ahead for good, knocking down a three pointer with senior Jordan Hamilton’s hand in his face.
The Mountain Hawks tried to claw back once again, but were hurt by their inability to make shots in the second half, especially from beyond the arc where Lehigh shot just 3-of-22 for the game. Lehigh went over seven minutes without a field goal before McKnight buried a triple with 1:06 to play. Xavier let Lehigh linger by missing the front end of two one-and-ones but after two McCollum free throws pulled the Mountain Hawks within four with 49 seconds left, Lehigh could get no closer.
Xavier rallied in the second half to win the rebounding battle 43-36. McCollum pulled down eight boards to lead Lehigh while Knutson added seven.
The loss, which was the first for Lehigh by double-digits this season, caps a season in which the Mountain Hawks set a school record with 27 victories, captured its third Patriot League title and its second in the last three years, and defeated Duke 75-70 on Friday for its first-ever NCAA tournament victory. Of the six No. 15 seeds to upset No. 2 seeds in the NCAA tournament, Lehigh became the only one to lead its next game at halftime.
“It has been a really exciting ride of ups-and-downs,” Knutson said. “We went from beating Duke and barely getting any sleep because of the excitement, to being obviously very disappointed in the way we performed, especially in the second half. It has been a great opportunity for us to represent Lehigh and the Bethlehem community but at the same time we’re disappointed that we couldn’t pull out a win today.”
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