By The Daily Item
Stefan Cvrkalj hit four second-half 3-pointers and Lehigh went 7-for-8 from the arc in the second half of a see-saw 66-63 victory over Bucknell on Wednesday night at Stabler Arena. Cameron Ayers scored 23 points and Chris Hass and Brian Fitzpatrick had 13 each for the Bison, who fell to 9-11 overall and 4-5 in the Patriot League.
Corey Schaefer paced Lehigh (11-11, 4-5) with 15 points, while Cvrkalj had all 14 of his in the second half. Tim Kempton added 12 points and Jesse Chuku had nine points and 10 rebounds to lead Lehigh in a game that featured wild momentum swings throughout the night.
Bucknell led by as many as 10 early in the contest and had a seven-point halftime lead, but Lehigh exploded out of the gates in the second half with an 18-3 run over the first 5:18. Kempton, who played only six minutes in the first half due to foul trouble, scored eight of those points, and Schaefer hit a pair of treys, the latter giving the Mountain Hawks a 46-38 lead.
The Bison punched back with a 9-0 spurt, consisting of five points from Hass and four from Ayers. But then Lehigh suddenly could not miss from long range. Five of the Mountain Hawks’ next six field goals came from 3-point distance, with Cvrkalj sinking four of them.
Bucknell led 55-54 after an Ayers pull-up jumper. Cvrkalj put Lehigh back in front with a trey, and after a couple of empty trips, Chuku hit a trey from the top of the key in transition after a Bison turnover. Cvrkalj followed that up with another triple to give Lehigh a 63-55 lead with 3:03 to play.
Hass scored five quick points to pull the Bison within three, and they had two chances to get closer, but both times Ryan Hill’s driving layup attempts were off the mark. Forced to foul with 0:25 left, Cvrkalj hit both ends of a 1-and-1 to stretch Lehigh’s lead back to five.
Ayers hit a contested 3-pointer with 5.2 seconds to go to make it 65-63. After a foul on the inbounds, Mackey McKnight missed the front end of a 1-and-1, but the Bison could not corral the rebound. McKnight chased down the loose ball in the corner and was fouled again with one second left. He made the first and missed the second, but Bucknell was out of timeouts and a 75-foot heave at the buzzer came up short.
Behind the hot hand of Fitzpatrick Bucknell got out to a strong start. The veteran center scored eight of the team’s points in a 15-5 run to open the contest. Ayers and Hass hit 3-pointers in that stretch, but the Bison then went cold for about six minutes.
Schaefer and McKnight hit 3-pointers in a 17-4 run that pushed the Mountain Hawks ahead 24-21. Fitzpatrick answered the McKnight trey with a pair of free throws, and that sent the Bison on the way to a 12-0 spurt late in the half. Ryan Frazier completed a 3-point play, D.J. MacLeay hit a pair of free throws, and Ayers scored five straight on a floater in the lane and a left-wing 3-pointer to make it 33-24.
Lehigh scored four straight points, then Hill spun through the lane for a layup at the buzzer to send the Bison to the locker room with a 35-28 advantage.
Ayers recorded 23 points for the second straight game and now has 1,362 in his career. He moved past Jim Wherry and Mike Butts into 11th place on Bucknell’s all-time scoring list.
Bucknell shot 38.7 percent on the night and had difficulty finishing on a number of looks in the paint. Lehigh blocked nine shots and several other layup attempts would not go down. The Bison were 6-for-15 from 3-point range and 9-for-13 from the free-throw line. Lehigh shot 44.4 percent overall and somehow went 9-for-16 from the 3-point arc and 9-for-22 from the foul line.
Bucknell returns to action on Saturday afternoon at Colgate. The Bison will be seeking a season sweep after beating the Raiders 68-57 on Jan. 5 at Sojka Pavilion.