Lehigh shoots their way past Sacred Heart

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Kevin Doyle (KLDoyle11)

Many of the stories pertaining to Lehigh basketball invariably revolve around C.J. McCollum. Earning multiple Patriot League Player of the Year awards, an NCAA Tournament win against Duke, and appearing on every NBA Draft list will do that.

After today’s 91-77 Lehigh victory over Sacred Heart at the William H. Pitt Center in Fairfield, Conn., McCollum will have another feather to add to his cap.

While McCollum and his teammates put on a dazzling display of offense (32-63 FG, 12-22, 3PT, 15-19 FT), the overarching story today was McCollum surpassing Rob Feaster from Holy Cross (1991-95) as the Patriot League’s All-Time leading scorer.

Humble as ever and always deflecting the credit to his teammates, McCollum explained scoring titles and personal accolades were all secondary when he came to Lehigh in the fall of 2009.

“I came into college with a lot of goals. First and foremost, I wanted to win four championships. I kind of fell shot on that, but I can still get three. I also wanted to make sure that I scored at a high clip and was efficient every year…that is a credit to my teammates around me.”

The manner in which McCollum has found success scoring the basketball during his career at Lehigh held true this afternoon against Sacred Heart. McCollum’s teammates, specifically point guard Mackey McKnight, seemingly always put him in position to score at a high rate. As a result, he has become a proficient scorer in all three facets: two point field goals, from the perimeter, and at the free throw line. Netting 26 points on 14 shots (8-of-14 FG, 5-of-7 3PT, 5-of-7 FT) is quite efficient. Certainly, it helps when the rest of the squad is hitting shots at such a high percentage, too.

Dr. Brett Reed touched on Lehigh’s exceptional shooting, but credited more to ball movement.

“I think the way we share the ball and the fact that we’re an unselfish team is indicative of his [C.J. McCollum’s] unselfish play. Today, we were moving the ball well and getting good shot opportunities. To give us credit, it’s going to be hard to beat us when we’re shooting 60% from the floor for an entire half.”

It was apparent very early that Sacred Heart would struggle to keep pace with Lehigh today. The Mountain Hawks excel in transition, and Sacred Heart played exclusively man-to-man defense for the entire first half allowing McKnight and McCollum to run rampant. To be fair to the Pioneers, however, there were not many defenses that would have slowed Lehigh.

At the under eight media timeout, Lehigh had already built a 35-21 lead, and was a torrid 7-11 from three point range. McCollum will get his points each night, but when role players begin to chip in with significant contributions, that’s when Lehigh becomes such a dangerous team.

Sophomore guard Stefan Cvrkalj had his strongest shooting performance of the young season burying four three pointers as he dropped in a season-high 14 points.

“Stefan can really shoot. Going into games we know he’s going to knock down shots and be our catch-and-shoot guy. It was good to see him get some open looks and know them down for his confidence going forward,” said McCollum.

If Sacred Heart had any hope of cutting in Lehigh’s 16 point halftime lead (49-33) early in the second half, it was quickly dashed by an Anthony D’Orazio layup and Holden Greiner three pointer. The lead swelled up to 20 points and Lehigh would lead by as much as 30 (72-42) before Sacred Heart went on a mini run in the waning minutes to make the scoreboard look more respectable.

The Pioneers were led by Shane Gibson who had 18 points on 6-15 shooting. The fact that Gibson, one of the top scorers in all of college basketball, was so quiet is a testament to McCollum’s defensive abilities and the Mountain Hawk help defense.

The two game swing in the Nutmeg state continues on Tuesday for Lehigh as they travel farther up I-95 to Hamden, CT to play Quinnipiac, another NEC team. The Bobcats figure to be a stronger opponent for Lehigh as they have an imposing frontcourt and talented point guard in Dave Johnson that will put the sometimes porous Lehigh defense to test.

“I think they’re a very good team. They’re a team that has a toughness and ruggedness to them. They’ll rebound the basketball, score on the inside, and use their athleticism and physicality on the interior to really intimidate their opponent. I’m excited because I think it’s going to be a really good test for us, particularly away from home…We’re going to have to be up for the challenge.”

NOTES: B.J. Bailey, who has been sidelined with an injury the entire season, has been cleared to play and Reed expects him to be back for next week’s game against Fordham…the 91 point output was the most against a Division 1 opponent since they lit the scoreboard for 95 against N.J.I.T. back on January 4, 2011…there were a few scouts from the NBA on hand for today’s game including Kevin Stacom…Lehigh ranks in the top 10 in the country in 3PT% as they’re hitting on 44% of their attempts…the Patriot League now has a combined record of 7-1 against teams from the NEC.

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