FAIRFIELD, Conn. - Lehigh senior guard C.J. McCollum scored 26 points to become the Patriot League’s all-time leading scorer as the Mountain Hawks were up by as many as 30 before holding on for an impressive 91-77 win at Sacred Heart on Sunday. In total, four Mountain Hawks finished in double figures including seniors Gabe Knutson and Holden Greiner who posted 18 and 17, respectively. Sophomore Stefan Cvrkalj also added 14, including four three-pointers.
“I thought we played remarkable offensive basketball, especially in the first half,” said Lehigh head coach Brett Reed. “We were in a flow, we scored in a variety of ways, we scored from the perimeter, we had some run out opportunities and established ourselves inside. It’s hard to beat a team that shoots that well. We were nearly 60 percent in the first half, which allowed us to build on our early lead.”
McCollum broke the league’s nearly 20-year old record with a pull-up jumper with 12:53 left in the second half. With the bucket, he broke a tie with Holy Cross’ Rob Feaster (2,224 career points) to reach 2,226 career points, while adding two late free throws as well.
“What a tremendous accomplishment for C.J. McCollum to become the Patriot League’s all-time leading scorer,” said Reed. “He’s made his mark on the Patriot League in an insurmountable way. It’s remarkable what he’s been able to do since his time stepping on campus, helping us win a championship as a freshman then multiple championships. Now to be able to accomplish such a feat so early in his senior year is a testament to his talent and abilities.”
McCollum scored 16 points in the game’s first 11:48 to get off to the fast start. His 26 points came on only 14 field goal attempts as he finished 8-of-14 from the field, 5-of-7 from three-point range and 5-of-7 from the line. Greiner led the team in rebounds for the second time in three games, finishing with seven, while junior Anthony D’Orazio added a career-high six boards.
McCollum covered the nation’s fourth leading scorer from a season ago in Sacred Heart’s Shane Gibson, stifling the guard. He didn’t allow a point for the first 9:07 while allowing Gibson only six first-half points and not letting him get into a rhythm.
The Canton, Ohio native got off to a hot start, knocking down a jumper then three-pointer on Lehigh’s first two possessions. Knutson followed with a layup while Greiner hit a trey to give the Mountain Hawks an early 10-2 lead less than three minutes into the game.
Sacred Heart scored the next six points to pull within 10-8, but Lehigh answered with a 7-0 run as a Conroy Baltimore offensive rebound and ensuing free throws made it 17-8 with 13:22 on the clock.
A pair of Gibson threes pulled Sacred Heart back within 22-16 with 10:54 remaining, but Lehigh answered with a vengeance, scoring 17 of the next 22 points to open an 18-point lead. McCollum scored seven in that stretch, including two of his four first-half threes and a half-court steal and ensuing dunk. Knutson finished the run with a jumper to give Lehigh a 39-21 lead with 6:56 on the clock.
The teams went back and forth over the final minutes of the first. Sacred Heart pulled within 14 with less than a minute on the clock, but a Greiner steal and Corey Schaefer layup as time expired made it 49-33 at the half.
McCollum finished the first half with 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting and 4-of-6 from three-point range. Knutson added 11 points while sophomore Cvrkalj scored nine via three treys. McCollum played stellar defense as well, holding Gibson to six points on 2-of-6 shooting.
The Mountain Hawks quickly extended their lead in the second, scoring six of the first seven points to open their first 20-point lead of the game, 55-34, following a Greiner three-pointer with 18:44 on the clock.
McCollum hit a three with 15:56 remaining to give Lehigh a 62-39 lead. Lehigh followed with a 10-3 run capped off by a three from Cvrkalj to make it 72-42 with 13:47 remaining, the Mountain Hawks’ first 30-point lead of the game and the first time they were up 30 since late in the Robert Morris game.
From there, the lead fluctuated as Sacred Heart pulled as close as 24, but the Mountain Hawks had an answer. Lehigh upped its lead back to 28 following a Greiner layup which made it 81-53 with 9:25 to go.
Sacred Heart wouldn’t go away quietly, posting a 13-2 run to pull within 83-66 with 5:26 remaining following three Gibson free throws. But Lehigh didn’t back down, closing out its eighth straight win over an NEC foe.
Lehigh finished 51 percent from the field (32-of-63), including 55 percent from three-point range (12-of-22). The Pioneers shot 44 percent from the field (27-of-61) and three-point range (10-of-23). The Mountain Hawks won the battle of the boards, 36-33.
Lehigh will head to Quinnipiac on Tuesday to face the Bobcats at 7 p.m. The Mountain Hawks then return home on Saturday to host Fairleigh Dickinson at 7 p.m. in Stabler Arena.