Lewisburg, Pa.- Lehigh held off numerous Bucknell rallies and hit four foul shots in the final five seconds to knock off the top-seed Bison 82-77 in the Patriot League Men's Basketball Championship on Wednesday at Sojka Pavilion.
The Mountain Hawks (26-7) win their third Patriot League title, and second in the past three seasons. They earn the Patriot League's automatic berth to the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament, with the brackets announced on Sunday at 6 p.m. on CBS. Lehigh makes the NCAA tourney for the fifth time, and third as a Patriot League member.
Bucknell (24-9) falls in its bid to repeat as Patriot League champion. As the League's top seed and regular-season winner, the Bison will receive a berth to the National Invitation Tournament, with the brackets announced on Sunday evening. The Bison will compete in the NIT for the first time, and will be the first Patriot League team in the event since Holy Cross in 2005.
The Patriot League's pair of stars were on display with spectacular games. Lehigh junior C.J. McCollum had 29 points, five assists and three steals and was named Patriot League Tournament Most Valuable Player. Bucknell junior Mike Muscala finished with 30 points and 14 rebounds, coming one point shy of the record for a Patriot League Championship. Muscala made the Patriot League All-Tournament Team along with classmate Joe Willman, Lehigh's Mackey McKnight and Gabe Knutson, and Lafayette's Rob Delaney.
Second-seed Lehigh never trailed in the game, but Bucknell came back to tie the score at 50-50 with 13:12 to go. The Mountain Hawks answered with a 9-0 run to take the lead for good, but the Bison never went away. Lehigh was up 78-71 with 45 seconds left before Bucknell's Bryson Johnson canned consecutive three-pointers in a three-second span to bring the Bison within 78-77 with 36 seconds to go. McKnight missed a pair of free throws with 26 seconds to go to give Bucknell the ball with a chance to win. Cameron Ayers missed a layup with eight seconds to go for the Bison, and McCollom grabbed the rebound and made a pair of free throws to put Lehigh ahead 80-77 with four seconds left. Jordan Hamilton stole a full-court inbounds pass by the Bison, and hit two free throws to seal the 82-77 Lehigh victory.
The Mountain Hawks opened the game with a 14-6 lead, and soon the trend of Bucknell rallying and Lehigh answering began. The Bison scored seven straight points to get within one, and evened the score for the first time at 15-15. Lehigh came back with six straight to go up 21-15, and later put together an 11-2 run to build its biggest lead of the night at 36-25 with 3:48 to play in the first half. Bucknell battled back to cut its halftime deficit to 41-34, and the margin stayed there until the Bison scored seven in a row to even the game at 50-50 with 12:12 left. That was as close as Bucknell came as Lehigh went on to the 82-77 victory.
McCollum was 9-of-17 from the field and 10-of-13 at the line in his 29-point effort, coming two points shy of the record for the League Championship. Knutson produced inside with 23 points on 9-of-16 shooting, and also led the Mountain Hawks with seven rebounds. McKnight added 11 in the game for Lehigh as the All-Tournament trio scored 63 of the team's 82 points.
Muscala had 30 points on 8-of-17 shooting from the field with a strong 14-of-16 night at the free throw line. Johnson finished with 11 points for the Bison, while Willman added 10. Cameron Ayers scored nine for Bucknell and Steven Kaspar finished with eight.
Lehigh shot an even 50 percent from the field at 28-of-56, and made 7-of-15 three-pointers. The Mountain Hawks had 12 assists with 10 turnovers, and finished with 10 steals in the game. Lehigh was 19-of-28 at the foul line, well below average for a team that came into the night second in the nation in free-throw percentage.
Bucknell made 23-of-55 field goals, finishing just below 42 percent from the field. The Bison had an outstanding night at the charity stripe by going 25-of-31, and also held a 35-28 rebounding advantage. Bucknell was a solid 6-of-13 from beyond the arc, and had 14 assists with 12 turnovers. Bucknell's bench outscored Lehigh 23-11.
Lehigh became the fifth No. 2 seed to win the Patriot League crown, with the other 17 titles all won by the No. 1 seed. The No. 1 seed had won six consecutive Patriot League titles. Bucknell was the last No. 2 to win the Patriot League title, beating top seed Holy Cross 61-57 on the road in 2005.
Lehigh joins Bucknell and Navy with three Patriot League titles, trailing only Holy Cross with five.
Recaps from each of the schools are included below, along with a box score from the contest.
All-Tournament Team C.J. McCollum, Lehigh (Jr., G) (Tournament MVP) Gabe Knutson, Lehigh (Jr., F) Mackey McKnight, Lehigh (So., G) Mike Muscala, Bucknell (Jr., F) Joe Willman, Bucknell (Jr., F) Rob Delaney, Lafayette (Sr., G)
Patriot League Championship Notebook *Lehigh improved to a perfect 3-0 in the Patriot League title game. The Mountain Hawks are the only team with an undefeated mark in the Championship contest. It was their first appearance since a 74-59 win over Lafayette in 2010. Lehigh won it all as the No. 2 seed for the first time. *Bucknell fell to 3-6 in the Patriot League Championship. The nine appearances are one behind Holy Cross for the most in League history. The Bison lost the title as as the No. 1 seed for the first time since 1993. *Bucknell and Lehigh were facing off in the Patriot League Championship for the first time. The Bison hold a 5-3 advantage in all-time League Tournament meetings with the Mountain Hawks. *The teams split games in the regular season, with each winning on the other's home court. Bucknell won 68-61 at Lehigh on Jan. 18, while the Mountain Hawks beat the Bison 56-53 on Feb. 16 in Lewisburg. *Lehigh becomes the first opposing team to win twice in one season at Bucknell's Sojka Pavilion. *Lehigh became both the fifth No. 2 seed and fifth road team to win the Patriot League Championship. It was the first in both categories since Bucknell in 2005 at Holy Cross. *Lehigh recorded its 12th road win of the season, and 14th road or neutral victory. The Mountain Hawks are among the top five nationally in both categories. *It was the first time since Bucknell's win at Holy Cross in 2005 that the Patriot League title game was decided by five points or less, and first since 2008 that was within single digits. *The No. 2 seed improved to 5-8 all-time in Patriot League title matchups. The No. 1 seed fell to 17-6 (Navy and Lafayette were both No. 1 in 2000). The top two seeds were meeting in the Patriot League Championship for the first time since 2009. *Lehigh (26) and Bucknell (24) have the most combined wins for two teams in Patriot League history. The previous high of 49 was set by Holy Cross and Bucknell in 2005. The Bison and Mountain Hawks also teamed with American to become the first trio of 20-win squads in League history. *McCollum became the 13th Patriot League Player of the Year to win the League Championship. He is the fourth straight to pull off the feat, and did it for the second time after also winning Player of the Year and a League title in 2010. *McCollum is the ninth person named both Player of the Year and Tournament MVP in the same season. Muscala pulled off the feat for the Bison last year. *McCollum made the Patriot League All-Tournament Team for the third year in a row, while Muscala is on for the second straight season. *Bucknell's Bryan Cohen played in his 128th career game, setting a school and Patriot League record *Lehigh Head Coach Brett Reed improved to 7-3 in the Patriot League Tournament, tied for the second-best winning percentage in League history. *The record for most points in a Patriot League Championship is held by Lafayette's Brian Ehlers, who scored 31 against Navy in 1998 *The game was broadcast nationally on CBS Sports Network, which broadcast a total of 14 regular-season and League Tournament Patriot League men's basketball games in 2012.
League Tournament Records The following records were set during the 2012 Patriot League Tournament.
Most 3-Point Field Goals, Tournament: Lehigh, 25 (Tied American, 2002) Highest Free-Throw Percentage, Tournament: Bucknell, 85.5 (59-69) Most Field Goals Attempted, Tournament: C.J. McCollum, Lehigh - 51 Most Steals, Game/Quarterfinals: C.J. McCollum, Lehigh - 7 vs. Colgate Highest Field-Goal Percentage, Single Game: Bucknell, 62.7 percent (32-51) in quarterfinals vs. Navy Highest Free-Throw Percentage, Single Game: Bucknell, 100.0 percent (19-19) in semifinals vs. Lafayette Highest 3-Point Percentage, Single Game: Lafayette, 68.4 percent (13-19) in quarterfinals vs. Holy Cross Highest Field-Goal Percentage, Two Teams: Bucknell/Navy, 58.2 percent (53-91) in quarterfinals (Bucknell 32-51, Navy 21-40)