Posted: 11/09/2012 | Last updated: November 10, 2012 at 08:01 AM
WACO, Texas - The Lehigh men’s basketball team battled hard, but couldn’t overcome a big and athletic Baylor squad as the Bears pulled away for a 99-77 win in the season opener for both teams Friday. Senior C.J. McCollum scored 36 points, just six shy of his career high, while junior Mackey McKnight added 14 points and six assists. The Mountain Hawks will look to bounce back on Monday when they travel to Pittsburgh for the NIT Season Tip-Off.
“I was very disappointed,” said Lehigh head coach Brett Reed. “I thought we could have and should have played better, particularly on the defensive end. Baylor is a talented team with a number of weapons. Nonetheless, we have to show a greater sense of urgency and sense of pride to collectively get stops as a team. Unfortunately, we were unable to do that tonight.”
McCollum’s 36 points came on 14-of-32 shooting while he added eight rebounds, two assists and three steals. McKnight added 14 points as the only other Mountain Hawk in double figures. Senior Holden Greiner tallied eight, all in the second half, while sophomore Corey Schaefer was a spark off the bench with eight behind 4-of-7 shooting.
Baylor big men Cory Jefferson and Isaiah Austin combined for 48 points on 22-of-28 shooting to help the Bears shoot 65 percent from the field.
The Bears were assessed a technical foul for dunking during warmups, so McCollum knocked down a pair of free throws before the game (and season) even tipped off. Lehigh went on to open a 7-4 lead following a McCollum three-pointer with 18:13 left in the first half, but Baylor answered with a 13-0 run to open a 17-7 advantage. The run began with an alley-oop to Jefferson to get the crowd into the game.
Sophomore Stefan Cvrkalj broke the momentum with a three-pointer from the corner at the 13:29 mark, ending a 4:50 scoreless drought and pulling Lehigh back within 17-10. However, Baylor answered with a three-pointer to regain momentum.
McCollum kept Lehigh within shouting distance as he grabbed two offensive rebounds on an possession which led to a McKnight three-pointer. McCollum then added seven straight Lehigh points.
Down 40-24, the Mountain Hawks scored 17 points over the final 4:26 of the first half to trim the Bears’ lead to 51-41 after 20 minutes of play. Schaefer was a spark, scoring four points in less than a minute. McKnight chipped in five while McCollum added eight of his 24 first-half points in that stretch.
Lehigh pulled as close as eight following a McCollum dunk with 23 seconds remaining, but Jefferson added a putback jumper with time winding down to help Baylor regain a 10-point, 51-41 lead at the half.
McCollum’s 24 first-half points came on 9-of-15 shooting and 5-of-5 from the free throw line. McKnight added 10 points. Baylor’s big men of Jefferson and Austin combined for 34 first-half points as the Bears knocked down 67 percent from the field (22-of-33) in the first.
Baylor scored the first six points in the second half, four coming from Austin who continued to use his 7-1 frame to his advantage. Lehigh got its first points of the second half behind a McKnight trey with 17:50 on the clock.
Pierre Jackson knocked down a three to give Baylor a 64-46 lead with 15:49 left in the second half, but Greiner answered with a trey of his own. The teams went on to trade baskets over the ensuing possessions to keep Lehigh within 15.
The Bears made a run to take a 22-point, 76-54 lead with 11:44 on the clock, but Lehigh made a mini 4-0 run, capped off by a McCollum three-pointer with 10:11 remaining to pull within 77-59, forcing Baylor to call timeout.
The Mountain Hawks extended their run to 9-0 following the timeout as a Schaefer layup and McCollum jumper pulled Lehigh as close as it would come in the second half. The McCollum jumper made it 77-63 with 8:41 still remaining. However, Baylor scored 10 of the game’s next 14 points to reopen a 20-point advantage (87-67), effectively ending any Lehigh hopes.
Baylor finished the game at 65 percent from the field (40-of-62) and 30 percent from three-point range (6-of-20). Lehigh was 37 percent (28-of-75) and 38 percent from long distance (8-of-21). The Bears won the battle of the boards, 44-32.
Lehigh will return to action on Monday when it faces NEC power Robert Morris in the NIT Season Tip-Off. Tipoff is set for 8:30 p.m. following the first game of the day featuring host Pittsburgh and Fordham. The winners will then meet on Tuesday with a trip to Madison Square Garden on the line while the losers will square off in a consolation game.
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