EASTON, Pa. - Down two at the half, the Lehigh men’s basketball team scored 53 second-half points to surge past Lafayette, 90-76, in front of a nationally-televised audience on Sunday afternoon in Kirby Sports Center. Junior C.J. McCollum led the surge with 12-straight second-half points, finishing with 26 on 7-of-14 shooting as the Mountain Hawks (15-6, 3-2 Patriot League) shot 58 percent from the field, including 64 percent in the second half.
The game will be re-aired on CBS Sports Network on Monday at 11 p.m., Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. and Wednesday at 2:30 a.m. and 8 a.m.
The win helped Lehigh jump into a tie with Lafayette (8-12, 3-2) for third place in the league standings. The Mountain Hawks eclipsed 90 points for the third time this season and first since netting 95 against Arcadia.
“It was tremendously important for our team to play with poise in this game,” said Lehigh head coach Brett Reed. “We talked about withstanding runs and making good decisions.”
Lehigh only turned the ball over seven times while holding a 27-8 edge in points off turnovers to help open a double-digit advantage midway through the second. The Mountain Hawks used exceptional 58 percent, 30-of-52 shooting, to eclipse 80 points for a seventh time this season.
The game was nationally televised on CBS Sports Network, Lehigh’s third nationally-televised game of the season, with at least three others on the schedule including this Thursday’s showdown vs. Navy.
McCollum’s game-high 26 points included 19 in the second half as he almost single-handedly helped Lehigh extend its lead. Junior Gabe Knutson impressed with 17 points, five rebounds and three assists while junior Holden Greiner added 12 as well. Freshman Corey Schaefer was strong in his first-career start, with nine points, two rebounds and two assists. He only turned the ball over once and only has two turnovers in his last 13 games overall. Schaefer took over at the point for sophomore Mackey McKnight, who served a one-game suspension due to an internal team matter.
“Corey has been an excellent decision-maker for us and he stepped up today which he’s done all year,” said Reed. “He has a great basketball IQ and doesn’t get rattled easily. When he looked for his shots in the second half and knocked a couple of those down, that really gave us a shot in the arm.”
Four Lafayette players reached double-figure points, led by 17 from Ryan Willen, 16 from Rob Delaney, 13 from Dan Trist and 11 from Tony Johnson.
Both teams were strong offensively in the early going as Delaney, then Trist knocked down jumpers on Lafayette’s first two possessions for a 4-2 lead. But Knutson hit a three-pointer with 18:08 on the clock, his fifth trey of the season after none his first two years, to give Lehigh a 5-4 advantage.
Down 6-5, Lehigh went on a mini 6-2 run to take an 11-8 advantage capped off by a fastbreak dunk from Greiner, his second emphatic dunk less than five minutes into the game. Schaefer found him nicely ahead on the break before the Traverse City, Michigan native finished.
Lafayette quickly scored four straight to retake the advantage before both sides traded the lead over the ensuing minutes. The Mountain Hawks eventually opened their largest advantage, 19-15, which included six points in less than a minute. It began with two straight layups from senior Justin Maneri before sophomore Anthony D’Orazio capped it off with a runner with 12:37 remaining.
From that point forward, the teams exchanged runs. Lehigh opened up a two-possession lead after a Maneri layup off an out-of-bounds play made it 33-29 with 4:36 on the clock. But Lafayette again responded by scoring 10 of the final 14 first-half points to take a 39-37 lead into the locker room. A John Adams offensive rebound, then putback gave Lehigh a 37-34 advantage with 1:44 remaining, but the Leopards scored five straight to end the half.
Both teams were on fire offensively in the first half as Lafayette shot 54 percent (15-of-28) to Lehigh’s 52 percent (14-of-27). The Mountain Hawks held a 15-13 rebounding edge after 20 minutes of play.
Senior Jordan Hamilton helped Lehigh regain a 40-39 lead with a three-pointer just over a minute into the second half. Lafayette took a 44-43 advantage, but the Mountain Hawks scored seven of the next eight, fueled by a 5-0 run via a pair of McCollum free throws, then a three-pointer from the top of the key. That made it 50-45 with 16:05 on the clock.
McCollum got hot midway through the half to help Lehigh open a 57-49 advantage following his fifth straight free throw. In total, he scored 12 points in a 3:24 span.
Knutson knocked down a jumper with 10:59 which gave Lehigh its largest lead of the game, 62-53, but Trist answered with a jumper on the other end, which was followed by a Jim Mower layup, to pull the Leopards back within five with 10:18 remaining.
Schaefer knocked down his first of two three-pointers in a 1:53 span, but Lafayette responded with a three of its own to pull back within 65-60 with 9:13 to go. Lehigh answered with a surge as Greiner cleaned up a rebound and jammed it home to make it 69-62 with 7:46 on the clock.
The Lehigh defense bore down, and the offense continued to roll as the Mountain Hawks went on to open a 73-63 advantage following a Knutson jumper with 5:46 to go. After another defensive stop, McCollum converted a three-point play with 5:06 remaining.
Nick Petkovich ended Lafayette’s nearly four-minute field goal drought with a three-pointer with 3:53 remaining, making it 78-68. But the Leopards couldn’t pull any closer. A Hamilton dunk gave Lehigh its largest lead of the game, 88-73, with 55 seconds remaining before holding on for the 90-76 win.
Lehigh finished at 58 percent from the field (30-of-52) and 50 percent from three-point range (7-of-14). Lafayette shot 49 percent (24-of-49) and 40 percent from long range (6-of-15). The Mountain Hawks held a 26-24 edge on the glass.
Lehigh returns home on Thursday night (Jan. 26) in a second straight game aired live nation-wide on CBS Sports Network. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. 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.