Posted: 01/18/2012 | Last updated: January 18, 2012 at 09:39 PM
BETHLEHEM, Pa. - Lehigh and Bucknell battled through a back-and-forth 40 minutes of basketball, but it was the Bison (14-6, 4-0 Patriot League) who closed it out in the end, downing the Mountain Hawks (14-6, 2-2), 68-61 on Wednesday night in Stabler Arena. The Mountain Hawks played from behind for much of the game, taking one second half lead then pulling within one on multiple occasions, but couldn’t get over the hump. Junior C.J. McCollum led the team with 14 points and a career-high nine assists while senior John Adams posted his third-straight double-digit scoring game, with 10.
“I thought the game was very competitive and hard-fought,” said Lehigh head coach Brett Reed. “Both teams gave tremendous effort throughout. Unfortunately, we made some errors that were costly for us, especially down the stretch. That certainly makes a big difference playing against a good team who has the ability to capitalize.”
Adams’ 10 points came on 4-of-6 shooting and 2-of-4 from three-point range. He now has 33 points over his last three games, including 9-of-13 from long distance. Lehigh outrebounded the league’s top rebounding team, 38-33, led by a balanced effort. Junior Gabe Knutson posted eight boards while junior Holden Greiner, sophomore Mackey McKnight and senior Justin Maneri all had seven. It marked a career-high for McKnight and season-high for Maneri.
Mike Muscala led Bucknell with 20 points and 12 rebounds while three other Bison scored double figures - Cameron Ayers (13), Bryan Cohen (12) and Joe Willman (11).
Bucknell jumped out of the gate early, using a 10-1 run after McKnight scored the game’s first points, to take a 10-3 advantage with 15:06 left in the first. Lehigh came right back with an 11-3 run of its own to take a 14-13 lead after a layup from sophomore Anthony D’Orazio.
The Bison answered, scoring nine straight to take a 22-14 advantage after an Ayers jumper. The lead swelled to 26-16, but the Mountain Hawks chipped away, using a 10-2 run capped off by a Knutson layup, to make it 28-26 with 4:19 left in the first.
After Maneri hit a late first-half free throw to pull within two, Willman knocked down a pair from the charity stripe with just one second remaining to make it 38-34 after 20 minutes of play.
Ayers hit a three just 16 seconds into the second half, but Lehigh responded with a vengeance, staging a 10-2 run to retake a 44-43 lead with 15:39 left in the second. Greiner and senior Jordan Hamilton each hit key three-pointers as part of the run.
However, the back-and-forth affair continued as Bucknell scored 12 of the next 15 points to take an eight-point, 55-47, lead with 11:29 left after a Brian Fitzpatrick three-point play.
Five straight Lehigh points via a D’Orazio three and McCollum layup pulled Lehigh back within one with 8:21 to go. From there, the game fluctuated from one to two possessions, but Lehigh couldn’t get over the hump.
A Greiner three-point attempt with 1:10 remaining would have given the Mountain Hawks a one-point, 64-63 lead, but it rimmed out. Willman hit both free throws, but Lehigh had a chance to tie which went for naught. Ayers hit a pair of free throws with 20 seconds remaining to make it 66-61, effectively ending Lehigh’s comeback hopes.
The Mountain Hawks shot 36 percent from the field (21-of-59) and 29 percent from three-point range (7-of-24). Bucknell finished at 39 percent (20-of-51) and 42 percent from long distance (8-of-19). Lehigh held a 38-33 edge on the glass.
“I do believe that we will bounce back,” said Reed. “We had a lot of positive things that we can certainly draw from, particularly some solidity of our defense. We have to continue to move forward from here, learn from this and grow.”
The Mountain Hawks head to rival Lafayette on Sunday for a 2 p.m. tipoff on CBS Sports Network. Lehigh returns home next Thursday night (Jan. 26) in a second straight game aired live nation-wide on CBS Sports Network. Tickets for all home games are now on sale and may be purchased on Lehighsports.com or by calling the ticket office at (610) 7LU-GAME.