Last-Second Shot Lifts Lehigh Past Bucknell, 56-53

Joe Willman

Feb. 16, 2012

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LEWISBURG, Pa. - The nation's longest conference winning streak came to an end on Thursday night when Lehigh's C.J. McCollum hit a 3-pointer with eight-tenths of a second remaining, lifting the Mountain Hawks to a 56-53 verdict over Bucknell at Sojka Pavilion. The Bison had won 20 straight Patriot League games dating back to last season, and their 12-game overall winning streak also came to an end, despite double-doubles from Joe Willman and Mike Muscala.

Including regular-season and postseason games, Bucknell had not lost to a Patriot League opponent since falling at Army on Jan. 29, 2011. This was also Bucknell's first home loss to a league foe since it was beaten by Holy Cross in the 2010 Patriot League Tournament quarterfinals.

The good news for the Bison (20-6, 10-1) is that they still maintain a two-game lead over both Lehigh (20-7, 8-3) and American with three games to play. Bucknell will have a very short turnaround with a Saturday road game looming at fourth-place Holy Cross, but the Bison likely need to win just one of their last three contests to secure the No. 1 seed for the Patriot League Tournament.

Willman equaled his season and career high with 19 points to go along with 11 rebounds. Muscala recorded his 12th double-double of the season with 10 points and 12 boards, but it was a tough night for the junior center. After sitting out most of the first half with foul trouble, Muscala finished 3-for-12 from the field, and he had a shot in the lane rim out with 30 seconds left in a 53-53 tie.

That led to Lehigh's winning score. McCollum, who had been held to just three field goals himself at that point, dribbled the clock all the way down before hitting a contested 3-pointer with less than a second to go. After a timeout, Bucknell's Bryson Johnson tried a desperation shot but it came up short at the buzzer.

McCollum led the Mountain Hawks with 15 points, more than six below his league-leading average, while Mackey McKnight added 10.

These were two of the Patriot League's top offensive teams coming in, but it was a defensive struggle throughout, with both teams shooting well under 40 percent. Lehigh shot 33.3 percent and scored a season-low 56 points, while the Bison finished at 36.8 percent and posted its second-lowest scoring total of the year.

Bucknell entered the game ranked ninth in the nation in 3-point field goal percentage (.405) but went just 3-for-16 in this one.

The Bison seemed to be well-positioned with a 51-44 lead after Muscala's layup with 6:14 to play, and they had another possession to build their margin up to nine or 10, but Muscala's late-shot-clock jumper rimmed out. McCollum answered with a pull-up jumper at the other end, and Lehigh finished the game on a 12-2 run.

Bucknell's only points in the last six minutes came on a short bank shot by Willman that put the Bison ahead 53-49 with 1:59 to play. At the other end McCollum drew a foul on a leaner in traffic in the lane and made both free throws to make it a two-point game. Ryan Hill lost control of the ball while going up for a layup, and then McKnight tied it with a layup on the counterattack with 1:05 left.

Muscala was off the mark on a 3-point attempt with 40 seconds left, but Willman helped control the rebound and the ball was knocked out of bounds back to Bucknell, but with only 13 seconds left on the shot clock. The Bison went back to Muscala in the high post, and his lefty runner in the lane wouldn't go down.

For Lehigh the three-point final margin equaled its largest of the game. Bucknell had trailed in the second half only once in its first 10 Patriot League games, for exactly one possession in what became a seven-point win at Lehigh back on Jan. 18. The Bison took a 29-27 halftime lead on Hill's bank shot with two seconds left in the first period, and they opened the second half with a Muscala jump hook to make it 31-27.

Lehigh answered with seven straight points to go up 34-31, and there would be five lead changes and six ties in the final 20 minutes.

Cameron Ayers also scored in double figures for Bucknell with 13 points, and he hit two of the team's three treys. Ayers also tied a career high with five assists.

This was Bucknell's first loss in 2012. The team's last setback was a 72-67 home loss to Loyola (Md.) on Dec. 28, and the Bison followed that up with 12 straight wins. That streak was tied for fifth-longest in the nation and was tied for seventh-longest in program history. The only longer streak at Bucknell since 1919 was a 14-game run in 2006-07.

Lehigh also spoiled Bucknell's 35-game Patriot League home winning streak in 2008.

Bucknell had been one of only five conference unbeatens in the nation.

The Bison will turn right around and travel to Holy Cross on Friday for Saturday's 4 p.m. start at the Hart Center. Bucknell can still clinch the regular-season title with a win over the Crusaders.