Lehigh beats Bucknell 82-77 to win Patriot League


LEWISBURG, Pa. (AP) Ear-piercing screams echoed through Sojka Pavilion with Lehigh backpedaling on defense, clinging to a one-point lead over Bucknell with 26 seconds left and an NCAA tournament bid on the line.

After turning back every Bison run on a tense night in hostile territory, the Mountain Hawks needed one more stop to win the Patriot League tournament.

Gabe Knutson blocked Cameron Ayers' baseline layup attempt with 7 seconds left and C.J. McCollum scored 29 points to help Lehigh hold on for an 82-77 victory and clinch the league's automatic NCAA bid for the second time in three seasons.

''A lot of those types of plays are instinct plays,'' said Lehigh coach Brett Reed, the celebratory basketball net resting in front of him on a table. ''Sometimes when you have an aggressive mentality, it ends up working out for you.''

After Mackey McKnight missed two foul shots, the second-seeded Bison trailed 78-77 and had a chance to take the lead, but couldn't get the ball into leading scorer Mike Muscala. The 6-foot-11 center had the ball in the post during the possession but passed to Ayers, who drove underneath the bucket before getting his shot deflected away by Knutson.

McCollum and Jordan Hamilton each hit two foul shots in the final 4 seconds, and Lehigh (26-7) began to celebrate another league tournament title.

''We knew it was going to come down to defense,'' Knutson said. ''We knew it was going to take one possession at a time ... and taking good shots on offense.''

This one will be especially sweet for Lehigh after beating top seed Bucknell (24-9) on its home floor. Lehigh rarely flinched behind league player of the year McCollum, who hit an array of tough shots to help withstand Bucknell's second-half rally from an 11-point deficit.

Muscala finished with 30 points and 14 rebounds for Bucknell.

But it's the possession that ended with Knutson's block that might gnaw on Muscala this offseason. He said he made a bad pass to Ayers on which he tried to get the ball back.

''I guess I should have tried to score but I saw the (defender) coming,'' Muscala said. ''You can't dwell on it too much, but I should have been more aggressive there on that first play.''

Buoyed by a boisterous crowd of 4,267 fans at cozy Sojka Pavilion, the Bison nearly broke through several times - but never held a lead the entire night.

Bryson Johnson hit two 3s within four seconds, including an open trey from the corner with 34.5 seconds left to get within 78-77 and draw the roaring cheers from the orange-clad fans in the student section dubbed the ''Sojka Psychos.''

McKnight was fouled with 26 seconds left but missed both to set up Bucknell's decisive possession and Knutson's block. Knutson had a good night on the other end, too, with 23 points and seven rebounds.

Both he and McCollum, especially, had answers for the Bison each time it got close. Bucknell tied it at 50 midway through the second half before McCollum hit a fade-away and had two assists in a 9-0 run.

''He's a prime-time player. He not only scores the basketball but makes other players around him better. He does it offensively and defensively for our team,'' Reed said.

McCollum twisted and turned all over the floor, drawing double teams to leave other teammates open. His fall-away jumper from the baseline proved lethal.

McCollum (four assists, three steals, two blocks) combined with fellow guard McKnight (11 points) to frustrate Bucknell on the perimeter, extending the defense to make it tough for Muscala and jump-shooting forward Joe Willman (10 points, six boards) to get good looks.

Knutson went 6 of 7 from the field for 13 points in the first half, hustling for three offensive rebounds to help Lehigh outscore Bucknell 9-0 in second-chance points.

''I thought the first half, we really dug ourselves a hole and gave up too many second-chance points,'' Bucknell coach Dave Paulsen said. ''If that game had gone another minute, I like our chances.''

Lehigh won for the second time this season on Bucknell's home floor. The first victory Feb. 16 ended the Bison's 10-game league winning streak.

On Wednesday night, Lehigh became the first Patriot League team to beat the top seed in the tournament since then-No. 2 seed Bucknell beat Holy Cross 61-57 in 2005.