Posted: 11/27/2012 | Last updated: November 28, 2012 at 05:17 PM
HAMDEN, Conn. - Down 62-61 with just over five minutes left in the second half, Lehigh senior C.J. McCollum scored 14 straight Mountain Hawk (5-2) points to help Lehigh pull away for a 77-66 win at Quinnipiac on Tuesday evening. After not scoring for the game’s first 9:49, McCollum finished with 30 points, already his third game with 30+ points this season and the 17th of his career. He also posted nine rebounds and four assists to help Lehigh win at Quinnipiac for the first time in school history.
“C.J. has such a unique ability to break through,” said Lehigh head coach Brett Reed. “The team needed point production at that stage in the game and he delivered. He came off one screen, made a shot and I could tell that competitive fire and competitive juice was really flowing. Our team obviously relies a great deal upon him. He was able to come through in a clutch and pressure situation.”
McCollum finished 9-of-18 from the field, 4-of-7 from three-point range and 8-of-11 from the free throw line. His 25 second-half points marked a career high for points in a half, topping 24 which was accomplished twice previously (second half at Kent State sophomore year and first half at Baylor earlier this season). Senior Gabe Knutson also added 17 points and eight rebounds while senior Holden Greiner had eight. Junior Mackey McKnight finished with seven points and seven assists, already his fifth game this season with six or more helpers.
“I think [tonight is] a good barometer for us because it gives us a chance to go into a foreign environment, play against a team that’s well-coached, physically tough and has a strong toughness type of mentality,” said Reed. “And for us to be able to respond and withhold in that situation is a testament to our guys’ character. It’s a good sign for us as we continue to move forward in league play.”
Lehigh hung tough on the glass against a strong rebounding team in Quinnipiac, as the Bobcats held a 40-32 advantage. Ike Azotam finished with 13 points and 13 rebounds while Garvey Young led the squad with 16 points and six boards.
Quinnipiac’s Zaid Hearst scored just 12 seconds into the game to give the Bobcats an early 2-0 lead, but the Mountain Hawks responded with the next four behind a Greiner jumper and two McKnight free throws to make it 4-2.
The Bobcats responded with a 7-2 run capped off by a three-pointer from Shaq Shannon to make it 9-6 with 14:17 on the clock.
However, Lehigh quickly answered as sophomore Stefan Cvrkalj knocked down a trey from the corner and Knutson followed with a tough layup off a nice feed from McKnight to make it 11-9 with 13:14 left in the first.
McCollum didn’t score for the game’s first 9:49, but had five in the span of 2:13. His layup with 7:58 to play made it 18-14 Mountain Hawks.
After Quinnipiac pulled within 18-17, Lehigh answered with a 9-2 run capped off by a Corey Schaefer three and Knutson layup to pull ahead by eight (27-19) with 4:48 to go.
The Bobcats answered by scoring 11 of the next 15 points to pull within 31-30 following a Jamee Jackson layup, but sophomore Conroy Baltimore had a big offensive rebound and putback as time expired in the first to make it 33-30 after 20 minutes of play.
Greiner and Knutson each scored eight first-half points to lead the way while McCollum added five. In total, eight different Mountain Hawks scored in the first half in a balanced all-around effort. Lehigh shot 43 percent (12-of-28) in the first half to Quinnipiac’s 39 percent (11-of-28), but the Mountain Hawks were just 20 percent (2-of-10) from long range.
Quinnipiac pulled within 37-36 with a chance to take a lead, but McCollum grabbed a big rebound and began a fastbreak the other way which ended with a big Anthony D’Orazio three from the corner to make it 40-36 with 16:18 on the clock.
The teams went back and forth until McCollum knocked down a three off an inbounds play to make it 53-46 with 12:06 left in the second half. Quinnipiac again had an answer as Shannon hit a three on its ensuing possession to quickly pull within four.
A steal and ensuing layup by Young tied the score at 57, capping off an 11-4 Quinnipiac run. With 5:16 to play, the Bobcats took their first lead since midway through the first half when Young hit a pair of free throws to make it 62-61.
But that’s when McCollum took over, scoring 14 straight Lehigh points to help the Mountain Hawks pull away. It began with a three-pointer with 3:55 to play to give Lehigh the lead back at 64-62 before following with 11 more. Quinnipiac only had four points in that span as Lehigh’s defense bore down over the final minutes. The Mountain Hawks held the Bobcats scoreless for a span of 2:56 between a pair of Azotam free throws with 3:40 to play and Dave Johnson free throws with 44 seconds on the clock.
“There were moments of some excellent Lehigh defense and some moments of breakdowns,” said Reed. “At this stage in the game, being late November, we have an opportunity to continue to grow. I give our guys a lot of credit. It was a hard fought victory tonight.”
Lehigh finished at 46 percent from the field (25-of-55) and 40 percent from three-point range (8-of-20). Quinnipiac was 40 percent (22-of-55) and 27 percent from long distance (3-of-11). The Bobcats won the battle of the boards, 40-32.
The Mountain Hawks will return home on Saturday to host Fairleigh Dickinson at 7 p.m. in Stabler Arena. Lehigh then welcomes Fordham on Tuesday (Dec. 4) at 7 p.m.
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