WORCESTER, Mass. - Junior Mackey McKnight eclipsed 20 points for a second straight game to lead the Lehigh men's basketball team to an impressive 68-61 win at Holy Cross on Saturday evening. The win marked the Mountain Hawks’ fifth straight on the road and ninth in their last 10 games as they won at Holy Cross for only the second time in their last 19 tries. Three others posted double-figure points as Lehigh improves to 17-5, 7-1 in Patriot League play.
“I’m really proud that our players were able to come together despite adverse situations,” said Lehigh head coach Brett Reed. “We struggled with weather; we had to leave earlier and were stuck in a hotel for a prolonged period. They really came ready to play tonight; I thought that was clear out on the floor.
The Mountain Hawks have won eight straight road games against Patriot League foes dating back to last season. The victory marked the 111th of Reed’s career, pulling him within one of the Lehigh all-time record.
“When you think about the concept of being on the road, everyone’s against you,” said Reed. “What it really requires is a team that’s tremendously together to withstand those types of odds. If there are chinks in the togetherness, it’s easy to fall apart. But our team has been galvanized through all their experiences. They play for each other and play with a great deal of pride for the university. “
McKnight finished with 22 points, including 11-of-12 from the free throw line to pace Lehigh which shot 22-of-27 from the charity stripe. Senior Gabe Knutson chipped in 14 points on 5-of-10 shooting while classmate Holden Greiner added 13 points and eight rebounds. Junior B.J. Bailey reached double figures in points for a fifth straight game, scoring 10 on 3-of-5 shooting along with four assists, four rebounds and four steals.
Dave Dudzinski led Holy Cross with 13 points while Malcolm Miller added 10.
Holy Cross scored on each of its first four possessions, but threes by McKnight and Greiner kept Lehigh within 8-6 at the first media timeout.
The Mountain Hawks responded with a 9-0 run capped off by treys from McKnight and Bailey to make it 15-8 with 14:09 on the clock. The Crusaders broke more than a three-minute drought on the other end, but Knutson answered with a nifty move down low for a 17-10 lead.
A McKnight fastbreak jumper with 10:23 on the clock gave Lehigh a 21-13 lead. Holy Cross eventually inched back within three after a Cullen Hamilton three made it 27-24 with 4:48 to go in the first.
However, the Mountain Hawks immediately answered with six straight, behind an Anthony D’Orazio runner and long jumpers from Greiner and Knutson, making it 31-24 with 3:24 remaining in the first half.
Lehigh went cold offensively, scoring just two points the rest of the half as the Crusaders’ Dee Goens knocked down a three with time expiring to pull within 33-27.
Greiner scored nine first-half points while Knutson and McKnight added eight apiece. Lehigh shot 55 percent in the first half (12-of-22) and 50 percent from three-point range (4-of-8). Holy Cross shot 39 percent (11-of-28) and 25 percent from long distance (2-of-8). The Crusaders held a 16-13 rebounding edge after 20 minutes of play.
Holy Cross scored 12 of the first 15 second half-points as a Phil Beans three gave the Crusaders a 39-37 advantage with 15:37 on the clock. An emphatic three-point play from Goens pulled the Crusaders within one just 28 seconds prior.
However, McKnight answered with five straight points for Lehigh, breaking a 2:24 scoreless drought then following with a three from the corner to put the Mountain Hawks up 42-39.
The Crusaders answered right back with four straight points from Dudzinski to make it 43-42 Holy Cross with 12:03 on the clock. The Crusaders went up three, but Bailey knocked down a big transition three to tie the score at 47, then D’Orazio followed with a running layup to make it 49-47 with 8:11 on the clock.
Holy Cross pulled even at 49, but Lehigh scored six of the next eight, including two straight hoops from Greiner, to make it 55-51 with 5:22 remaining in the second. Two Knutson free throws gave Lehigh a six-point lead then with 3:47 remaining, D’Orazio took a big charge to prevent what could have been a momentum changer for Holy Cross.
The Mountain Hawks went on to open an eight-point lead on multiple occasions, but McKnight proved clutch from the free throw line down the stretch, hitting seven-of-eight over the final 1:07 as Lehigh held on for the 68-61 win.
“It would have been very easy for us to fold during the time when Holy Cross was playing some excellent basketball,” said Reed. “Even during their runs, they had some huge momentum plays from dunks to three-point plays. But our guys were able to respond and pull together. They got more unified.”
Lehigh shot 44 percent from the field (20-of-46) and 27 percent from three-point range (6-of-22). Holy Cross finished at 42 percent (25-of-60) and 17 percent from long distance (3-of-18). The Crusaders won the battle of the boards, 37-30.
The Mountain Hawks return home on Wednesday to host American at 7 p.m. before hitting the road once again next Saturday (Feb. 16) at Colgate.
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