BETHLEHEM, Pa. - The Lehigh men's basketball team put together one of its most complete games of the season, beating Holy Cross, 79-47, in the Patriot League opener on Saturday. A balanced effort saw junior Mackey McKnight lead the way with 16 points while freshman Justin Goldsborough excelled on the glass with a career-high 10 rebounds. Lehigh snapped a two-game losing streak in Patriot League openers to improve to 11-4 overall. Holy Cross falls to 8-8 and 0-1 in league play.
"There was some passion and intensity at the start of the game. We were able to get a couple deflections, but the transition game was working for Holy Cross," said Lehigh head coach Brett Reed. "We were caught in the in-between area. As we started making a greater commitment, communication was stronger and we got our defense loaded, it made a huge difference. It also helped that we shot a high percentage - more opportunities they had to take the ball out of bounds to slow down their transition game."
The game was played in front of a nationally-televised audience on CBS Sports Network and in front of a strong crowd of 2,172 fans, despite students being away for winter break.
McKnight's 16 points came on 6-of-8 shooting and 2-of-3 from three-point range. Senior Holden Greiner added 15 behind 4-of-7 from long distance while classmate Gabe Knutson had 12 to move into 13th place in school history for career points (1,326). Knutson also moved up a spot to 43rd on the Patriot League career scoring list.
"I don't think there's going to be any replacing of C.J. McCollum," said Reed. "That is not our goal, not our intention. To ultimately say replace, it's doing a disservice because he's a terrific player.
"However, the unified effort, unified passion begins with everybody stepping up a little bit more," said Reed. "It's what we're looking for and ultimately what we need. It was on display tonight; everyone played for each other. I'm sure they played for C.J. as well, but when we're in the moment, there are no distractions thinking about C.J. It's about doing all we can for each other in the moment."
Lehigh's defense was the story, holding Holy Cross to 30 percent shooting including 26 percent in the first half. The Mountain Hawks' three lowest point totals against have come in their last three games (59 at VCU, 46 vs. Muhlenberg and 47 on Saturday). Prior to that, the fewest points Lehigh had allowed was 63 on Dec. 4 against Fordham.
Junior B.J. Bailey added a season-high nine points on 2-of-3 shooting while junior Anthony D'Orazio had nine as well on 4-of-5 from the field. Sophomore Stefan Cvrkalj posted seven while Corey Schaefer added five to go with three assists. Goldsborough scored six points to go with his career-high 10 rebounds.
"Justin has continued to contribute at a higher level in practice," said Reed. "For him to be able to now do that in a game situation, and ultimately contribute to what we're trying to build, is a great sign for him personally and also a great sign for our program. We need that rebounding, we need that athleticism, we need that energy around the basket that he's been able to contribute."
The Mountain Hawks held Holy Cross point guard Justin Burrell to 16 points and only one assist while Phil Beans had 10. Lehigh held Dave Dudzinski, who was averaging a team-leading 16.3 points, to only seven on 1-of-6 shooting. The Mountain Hawks dominated the rebounding battle against a strong rebounding team, 39-26.
The sides went back and forth through the middle of the first half. A Greiner three-pointer gave Lehigh a 9-5 advantage with 16:42 to go, but Holy Cross' Jordan Stevens answered with a trey of his own before a Burrell layup gave the Crusaders their first lead at 10-9 with 15:58 left in the first half.
Malcolm Miller knocked down a free throw with 9:06 on the clock to give Holy Cross a 17-16 advantage, but Lehigh responded in a big way. The Mountain Hawks promptly went on a 14-0 run, beginning with four threes. Schaefer started the run while Bailey and Cvrkalj added treys, with a Knutson old-fashioned three-point play in between.
Dudzinski knocked down a pair of free throws with 2:58 left in the first half to end a 6:08 scoreless drought. That cut Lehigh's lead to 11 (30-19), which stood as the margin heading into halftime (34-23).
Knutson lead the way with seven first-half points while Greiner added six and McKnight and Schaefer posted five. Lehigh shot 40 percent in the first (12-of-30) to Holy Cross' 26 percent (6-of-23) while holding a 24-17 advantage on the glass.
The Mountain Hawks came out of the locker on fire. After a Miller three on Holy Cross' first possession, Lehigh scored nine of the next 12 points which included a pair of Greiner treys. That made it 43-29 with 15:58 left in the second. The lead continued to grow as McKnight scored six straight points to turn a 12-point lead into 18. He knocked down a jumper, pair of free throws then fastbreak layup, all in the span of 1:14 span, to make it 49-31.
Up 49-33, Lehigh used a 10-0 run to erase any doubt as a Cvrkalj steal and fastbreak layup made it 59-33 with 9:07 remaining. The Mountain Hawks' lead swelled to 30 (67-37) as Bailey knocked down a three-pointer with 6:28 on the clock.
Holy Cross pulled as close as 23 (67-44), but the Mountain Hawks again responded by outscoring the Crusaders 12-3 the rest of the way for the 79-47 win, Lehigh's third win this season by 30 or more points.
The Mountain Hawks finished at 52 percent from the field (28-of-54) and 48 percent from three-point range (10-of-21) while Holy Cross was 30 percent (13-of-44) and 32 percent from long distance (7-of-22).
Lehigh will head to American on Wednesday to face the Eagles at 7:30 p.m. The Mountain Hawks return home to host Colgate next Saturday. Opening tipoff is set for 7 p.m.
Allentown, PA 18102