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Lehigh tops Bucknell for Patriot title, NCAA berth

Mar 8, 2012 - 3:44 AM Lewisburg, PA (Sports Network) - Faced with the possibility of a stunning collapse, and with a ticket to the NCAA Tournament on the line, Lehigh turned to C.J. McCollum.

The junior guard helped create a turnover then calmly sank two free throws with 4.1 seconds left, as Lehigh held on to down Bucknell, 82-77, in the Patriot League championship game.

The Mountain Hawks' eighth straight win looked to be a certainty when McCollum's free throw opened a 78-71 lead with 45 seconds to go, but the Bison rallied behind a pair of Bryson Johnson threes and actually had a chance at their first lead, and the win, in the closing seconds.

Lehigh (26-7) captured its third Patriot League Tournament title and the automatic bid behind 29 points from McCollum, 23 from Gabe Knutson and 11 from Mackey McKnight.

Mike Muscala kept the Bison (24-9) in the game until the very end, scoring 30 points with 14 rebounds. Johnson donated 11 off the bench, while Joe Willman tallied 10 points for the league's regular-season champions.

Time and time again, the Bison got close, but they never quite got over the hump.

The Bison cut the margin to two points, but McCollum was fouled while shooting a three on the other end. He made all three attempts then drained a tough jumper from the left block for a 74-67 lead.

Bucknell got it to 75-71 on Muscala's tough bank shot with 1:05 to go, and drew within four again, 78-74, on Johnson's three-pointer with 43 seconds left. McCollum was whistled for a dead-ball offensive foul, and the Bison called on Johnson again, who connected from the left corner with 34.5 seconds remaining.

McKnight missed both free throws, but Bucknell turned it over near the rim and McCollum was fouled and made both attempts with 4.1 seconds remaining. The Bison again turned it over on an intercepted pass, and the Mountain Hawks wrapped it up at the foul line.

The Mountain Hawks and Bison went at each other in the first half, exchanging baskets and blows, but it was Lehigh that had the upper hand with some hot shooting. Knutson made six of his seven shots and McCollum connected on 4- of-9, including the beginning of a three-point play for a 21-15 edge nearly midway through the half.

Bucknell worked its way back within a bucket at 25-23 on Ben Brackney's three- pointer, but it was McCollum and B.J. Bailey who extended the margin back out. Bailey hit one of his two treys off the bench for a 30-23 advantage, and McKnight stepped into an open trey, finding the bottom of the net for the game's first double-digit edge, 36-25.

The Bison again fought back within five, but McCollum's two free throws capped the scoring for a 41-34 lead. Lehigh made half of its 30 shots and drained five treys in leading throughout the opening 20 minutes.

Bucknell bounced out of the break, quickly rallying from a nine-point deficit to square the contest at 50 on Brian Fitzpatrick's free throw nearing the 13- minute mark. The Mountain Hawks responded with nine in a row, including a pair of layups by Justin Maneri off McCollum dribble-drive attempts and a John Adams trey for a 59-50 game.

Again, the Bison got to the edge of the lead with four straight from Steven Kaspar drawing the home team within 61-60. But Lehigh kept the lead with back- to-back successful possessions, the latter capped by McCollum's jumper for a 69-64 edge.

Game Notes

The Mountain Hawks won the first meeting this season, 56-53...Lehigh made 50 percent of its shots in both halves. Bucknell made 42 percent of its shots on the night...The Bison lived at the foul line, making 25-of-31 attempts, compared to 19-of-28 for the Mountain Hawks.