GREENSBORO, N.C. - The Lehigh men’s basketball team used a sensational all-around effort from the opening whistle, led by 30 points from junior C.J. McCollum, to pull off a huge 75-70 win over second-seeded Duke Friday night for the program’s first-ever NCAA Tournament victory. The Mountain Hawks never trailed by more than five, and were leading for much of the game. Lehigh’s largest lead came in the final minute (8) as the squad always had answers for the Blue Devils’ runs.
The win marks the Patriot League’s third-ever NCAA Tournament victory and the first since Bucknell defeated Arkansas in 2006. The Mountain Hawks also won their 27th game of the season, tying a Patriot League record for most overall victories. It marks Lehigh’s ninth straight win to tie for the third-longest win streak in school history.
“I sit here today humbled by the opportunity to share this experience with wonderful student-athletes, individuals who have invested so much of their time into their academic pursuits, building character, being unified as a team and ultimately fighting through a great deal of adversity through an entire season to grow and learn together,” said Lehigh head coach Brett Reed. “Ultimately to use this opportunity in the game of basketball to hopefully not only make meaningful memories, which I think they had tonight, but also to continue to grow and help them as they continue to progress beyond basketball.”
The Mountain Hawks will now play the 10th seeded Xavier Musketeers, at 7:45 p.m. Sunday night with a berth to the Sweet 16 on the line.
McCollum was stellar, scoring 30 points (his sixth 30-point game of the season and 14th of his career). He finished 9-of-24 from the field and 10-of-16 from the free throw line while also posting six rebounds, six assists and two big steals.
Classmate Gabe Knutson added 17 points and eight rebounds, including a perfect 5-of-5 from the field, while senior John Adams was strong on the glass with eight boards to go with seven points. Sophomore Mackey McKnight posted 11 points, two assists and a team-high three steals. That included an impressive 2-of-3 from three-point range.
Lehigh held Duke star Seth Curry to only seven points on 1-of-9 shooting. Freshman sensation Austin Rivers finished with 19 points, but that came on 5-of-14 from the field. Despite owning a significant size advantage, the Mountain Hawks hung tough with Duke on the glass (42-34).
After going down 2-0, Lehigh responded with six of the next eight to take a 6-4 lead after a long jumper from McCollum with 17:41 on the clock. Knutson preceded that with a layup off a nice feed from Adams. But Duke responded with four in a row to take an 8-6 advantage at the first media timeout.
Lehigh came back with five in a row, beginning with a McKnight three-pointer then finishing with a three-point play opportunity from senior Jordan Hamilton. Duke pulled within 13-12 after a Miles Plumlee layup, but McCollum took over with a half-court steal and thunderous dunk, then a three-point play on the fast break, to put Lehigh up 18-14 with 8:47 remaining.
A Josh Hairston jumper tied the score at 21, but McCollum came back with a highlight-reel crossover and fadeaway which went down to make it 23-21 with 2:52 to go.
An Adams three off a nice feed from McCollum gave Lehigh a 26-23 lead, but Rivers answered on the other end. Then two Tyler Thornton free throws gave Duke a 28-26 advantage, the Blue Devils’ first lead since 8-6 with 16:55 on the clock.
McCollum evened the score again (at 28) with his 11th point of the first half, but an Andre Dawkins floater with five seconds on the clock made it 30-28 after 20 minutes.
McCollum scored a game-high 12 first-point points on 5-of-13 shooting. He also grabbed four rebounds while dishing three assists. The Mountain Hawks shot 39 percent in the first half (10-of-26) and 29 percent from three-point range (2-of-7) across Duke, who finished at 42 percent (11-of-26) and 10 percent from long distance (1-of-10). The Blue Devils were led by Mason Plumlee in the first half with 10 points and five rebounds.
A wide-open Knutson three-pointer tied the score at 32 early in the second half, but Duke responded with five straight via a Thornton trey and Hairston deuce to take a 37-32 lead.
The resilient Mountain Hawks continued to fight back, getting seven straight behind two Adams free throws, a Knutson layup and driving basket then free throw from McCollum. That made it 39-37 with 14:56 remaining.
A Justin Maneri layup then McCollum three eventually put Lehigh up 47-42 with 12:08 to go, Lehigh’s largest lead of the game to that point. Duke came right back with a Mason Plumlee layup and Rivers floater to pull within one, then extended the run to 7-0 after a Mason Plumlee layup and Rivers free throw with 8:36 on the clock.
However, just 15 seconds later, McKnight had an answer, draining a big three-pointer to help Lehigh regain the lead (50-49), a lead the Mountain Hawks would never relinquish.
Lehigh slowly began to build its advantage, going up 56-51 after a Knutson layup then McCollum free throw. Duke pulled to single digits on multiple occasions, but the Mountain Hawks continued to have answers, taking an eight-point, 65-57 lead after two Knutson free throws (their largest of the game). Duke pulled within three with 28 seconds remaining, but Lehigh hit its free throws to fend off the Blue Devils.
The Mountain Hawks finished at 42 percent from the field (22-of-52) and 33 percent from three-point range (6-of-18). Duke was 41 percent (24-of-58) and 23 percent from long distance (6-of-26). The Blue Devils won the battle of the boards, 42-34.
The Mountain Hawks will now play the 10th seeded Xavier Musketeers, at 7:45 p.m. Sunday night with a berth to the Sweet 16 on the line. Check back to Lehighsports.com for continued updates as the squad competes in the NCAA Tournament.
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