BETHLEHEM, Pa. - The Lehigh men’s basketball team led from start to finish, jumping out to an early 20-10 lead while holding off a late first-half rally to post an impressive 72-53 win over Lafayette on Saturday. A pair of seniors led the charge on Senior Day as John Adams scored a career-high 14 points while adding 10 rebounds for his second-career double-double. Meanwhile, Justin Maneri tied a career high with nine points on 4-of-5 shooting. With the win, the Mountain Hawks (21-7, 9-3 Patriot League) pull within one victory of tying their single-season school record set two years ago. They also clinched a home game in the league quarterfinals, set for Wednesday, Feb. 29.
The Leopards (11-16, 6-6) were led by Ryan Willen, who scored 16 points and added five rebounds. Tony Johnson also posted 12 points. Saturday marked the second straight game the Mountain Hawks held their opponent to 53 points as a stout defensive effort held Lafayette to 34 percent shooting.
“It was an impressive start,” said Lehigh head coach Brett Reed. “I was really pleased for our seniors. While we had an impressive start, it was done with defensive energy and sharing the basketball. The ball was moving around and we were getting really high quality shots, which was nice to see.
“It’s always a good testament to a senior class when everybody else on the team really wants to play for them and play well for them,” Reed continued. “It’s really nice as a coach to see that develop over time.”
Adams’ 14 points came on 5-of-8 shooting and 2-of-3 from three-point range. Junior C.J. McCollum led the way with 22 points on 10-of-18 shooting, along with eight rebounds, four assists, three blocks and a steal. Junior Gabe Knutson finished with 10 points and seven rebounds.
The game was nationally televised on CBS Sports Network, Lehigh’s second game in three days on the network. The Mountain Hawks finish the regular season 4-1 on the network with the Patriot League Semifinals and Championship also slated for CBS Sports Network.
Less than nine minutes into the game, the Mountain Hawks already led, 20-10 following a fastbreak layup from sophomore Mackey McKnight, who dished out five first-half assists. All three seniors had already scored just 5:33 into the game following a Jordan Hamilton jumper to make it 16-7.
Lafayette wouldn’t quit, going on an 11-5 run to pull within 25-21 with 8:16 remaining following a pair of Johnson free throws. The Mountain Hawks extended the lead to 31-24 after a Knutson layup, but the Leopards scored four straight to pull within 31-28, as close as they had been since it was 4-2 just 56 seconds into the game.
The Mountain Hawks distanced themselves heading into halftime, scoring the final seven points highlighted by a McCollum three-point play with 1:03 on the clock. Lehigh led 38-28 after 20 minutes of action.
It didn’t take long for Lehigh to extend its lead in the second as a B.J. Bailey layup made it 51-35 with 15:04 remaining. Lafayette cut the lead to 11, but the Mountain Hawks continued to have answers. They went on to hold the Leopards scoreless for 3:38 midway through the second, scoring five points themselves, to make it 60-44 with 9:04 on the clock.
Lehigh continued to cruise, opening a 19-point margin which stood as the final, 72-53.
The Mountain Hawks finished at 49 percent from the field (29-of-58) and 24 percent from three-point range (4-of-17) while Lafayette shot 34 percent (21-of-61) and 30 percent from long distance (6-of-20). Lehigh dominated the boards, outrebounding the Leopards, 44-29.
Lehigh rounds out regular season play with a pair of road games next week. The Mountain Hawks travels to Navy Wednesday (7 p.m.) before heading to Army on Saturday (4 p.m.).