LEWISBURG, Pa. - In its fifth game without star C.J. McCollum, the Lehigh men’s basketball went to Bucknell and won anyway, topping the Bison 65-62 in front of a raucous crowd on Wednesday evening in Sojka Pavilion. Junior B.J. Bailey shattered his career high with 18 points on 5-of-8 shooting and 4-of-4 from three-point range while sophomore Mackey McKnight had 15. Lehigh’s three-point shooting was the story, finishing 56 percent from long distance against one of the nation’s best defending the three. The Mountain Hawks improve to 14-5 and 4-0 in league play while Bucknell drops to 16-4 and 3-1 in the Patriot League.
“It was a hard-fought battle,” said Lehigh head coach Brett Reed. “Defensively, we had to stand strong. I thought Bucknell made big plays. Offensively, we struggled at times. Somehow, because of our grit, our determination and our togetherness, we were able to walk out of here with a win.”
The win gave Lehigh sole possession of first place in the Patriot League. The Mountain Hawks won their third straight at Sojka Pavilion after topping them 56-53 last February and 82-77 in the Patriot League Championship Game last March. Bucknell’s last three home losses have all come to Lehigh as the Bison entered a perfect 7-0 at home this season.
Senior Holden Greiner scored 10 of his 12 points in the first half to help Lehigh jump out to an early 15-point lead. Bucknell came back to take its first lead in the second half, going up as many as seven, but the resilient Mountain Hawks fought back. It marked only the second time in Bucknell’s last seven games it allowed 60 points, the other being Missouri who’s currently ranked 22nd in the nation.
“B.J. gave us an immediate spark and contribution. It’s obvious he came to play,” said Reed. “We were able to ride him a little bit offensively. It was nice that Corey Schaefer was able to step up in the first half and knock down some shots. We had a pretty strong attack mentality; we tried to get to the free throw line in the second half, which can be difficult at times when Mike Muscala is back there defending the basket.”
Muscala, who leads the nation with 13 double-doubles, was held to just 16 points on 7-of-15 shooting, along with eight rebounds. Joe Willman added 15 points and nine boards while Dom Hoffman chipped in with 10.
Senior Gabe Knutson posted six points and nine rebounds while freshman Justin Goldsborough had six points and three boards, including a big defensive rebound and free throw in the game’s final minute. Schaefer knocked down a pair of threes for six points as well.
“[A game like today is] why you want to come to a good program. You want to have a chance to compete for championships,” said Reed. “We’ve been fortunate that we’ve been able to do that. The formula has been in place where we really try to develop young men beyond basketball. Some of the byproducts of that - togetherness and the way they’re growing throughout the process - is evident on the floor.”
Lehigh jumped out to a quick 5-0 lead after a McKnight three with 16:47 left in the first half. Ryan Hill scored Bucknell’s first points 21 seconds later behind a driving layup, but the Mountain Hawks answered right back as Knutson found Greiner driving to the hoop to make it 7-2.
Muscala scored his first points with 15:09 on the clock, but Lehigh answered with a 7-0 run over the next 3:24, which included threes from Greiner and Bailey. That made it 14-4 and forced Bucknell coach Dave Paulsen to call timeout with 12:35 left in the first.
Muscala ended the run with a free throw with 11:45 on the clock, but Bailey answered on the other end with his second three-pointer in less than three minutes to put Lehigh up 17-5. He then added a nifty floater to give the Mountain Hawks a 19-7 advantage with 10:40 on the clock.
Leading 19-10 after a Cameron Ayers free throw, Lehigh scored eight of the next 10 points capped off by a Schaefer three, his second trey in 1:12, to give the Mountain Hawks a 27-12 lead. That forced Bucknell to call its second timeout with 6:03 on the clock.
However, the Bison immediately answered in a big way, staging a 14-0 run to pull back within one (27-26) following a Willman basket. The run began with six straight from Bryson Johnson, including a rare four-point play. Greiner knocked down a big jumper in the lane to end a long 5:35 scoreless drought and give Lehigh a 29-26 advantage in the final minute, but Willman knocked down another long jumper with time expiring to pull Bucknell within one at the half.
Greiner led the way with 10 first-half points, Bailey had eight and Schaefer six. Muscala led the Bison with nine points and seven rebounds in the first.
Bucknell carried the momentum into the second half, scoring the first four points. But a Knutson offensive rebound and putback followed by Bailey’s third three-pointer of the game, gave Lehigh the lead back again at 34-32 with 17:31 on the clock.
Bucknell answered with the next five to go up 37-34. The lead eventually swelled to 44-37 after a Ryan Hill runner with 12:46 remaining, but Lehigh answered with a 10-0 run, six points from McKnight and four from Bailey, to make it 47-44 midway through the second half.
The Bison again had an answer, scoring nine of the next 11 points as an Ayers runner made it 53-49 Bucknell with 7:52 to play. With the Bison leading 56-51, Bailey knocked down his fourth three-pointer of the game to pull Lehigh within two again.
A Goldsborough layup tied the score at 56 then after Muscala gave Bucknell the lead, McKnight hit a big three-pointer to give Lehigh a lead it wouldn’t relinquish. Knutson had a big layup 1:34 later to make it 61-58, then the Lehigh defense bore down to close out the victory.
“We needed to make sure that our defense remained strong,” said Reed. “Credit our guys for a great deal of fight and determination in a hostile environment. They showed tremendous resiliency and togetherness.”
The Mountain Hawks hit enough free throws down the stretch, and Ayers missed a desperation three at the buzzer, as Lehigh held on for the 65-62 victory.
Lehigh finished at 36 percent from the field (21-of-59) and 56 percent from three-point range while Bucknell finished at 45 percent (26-of-58) and 14 percent from long distance (2-of-14). The Bison won the battle of the boards, 39-34.
The Mountain Hawks return to action Sunday when they host Lafayette at 12 p.m. on CBS Sports Network.
“We’ll get right back after it,” said Reed. “We can’t be satisfied with one game. There are many games left; it’s still very early in the season. I think our guys understand it’s still a long journey. We’re building a blueprint for success.”
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