BETHLEHEM, Pa. - Mike Muscala recorded his ninth double-double of the season with 20 points and 12 rebounds, and Bucknell rode a terrific defensive effort to its sixth straight victory, 68-61 over Lehigh on Wednesday night in a battle of the Patriot League's two winningest teams. With the victory, the Bison improved to 14-6 overall and 4-0 in the Patriot League, maintaining sole possession of first place.
Cameron Ayers tallied 13 points, including the clinching free throws with 20 seconds left, Bryan Cohen added 12 points and Joe Willman had 11 for the Bison, who had 17 assists on 20 field goals and committed only eight turnovers.
In addition to their scoring, Ayers and Cohen spent large amounts of time handling the ball with point guards Ryan Hill and Steven Kaspar in foul trouble, in addition to playing strong defense on Lehigh star C.J. McCollum. McCollum, the nation's fifth-leading scorer at 21.2 points per game, was held to 14 points on 5-for-15 shooting. McCollum did have nine assists, but he was held to just four second-half points. McCollum had scored 27, 26 and 32 points in his previous three league games.
Overall, Bucknell held Lehigh to 35.6 percent shooting and became the first team all season to keep the Mountain Hawks under the 70-point mark. Lehigh (14-6, 2-2) lost at home for the first time all season.
Bucknell led by four at the half and then by seven after Ayers opened the second period with a 3-pointer. But typical of this game of quick momentum shifts, Lehigh stormed back with a 10-2 run, taking a 44-43 lead on Mackey McKnight's layup.
The Bison came right back with seven in a row as part of a 12-3 run. Muscala hit a 3-pointer off an inbounds play to put Bucknell back up by four, and later Hill made a nifty feed to Brian Fitzpatrick for dunk and a 3-point play. That put the Bison up 55-47 with 11:29 left, but an Anthony D'Orazio trey kicked off a 7-0 spurt for Lehigh. Holden Greiner's layup made it a 1-point game at 55-54.
Another trey by Muscala and one from Ayers gave Bucknell separation from 1-point leads. Muscala's elbow jumper with 3:04 left gave the Bison a 63-59 lead before Lehigh cut it back to two on a tough leaner by McCollum. After an exchange of turnovers, Greiner missed a three from the top of the key. Willman grabbed the rebound, got fouled and made 1 of 2 from the line to make it 64-61 with 1:07 left.
At the other end, McCollum tried a 30-footer that drew only glass, and Cohen tracked down the rebound. Bucknell ran the clock down to 20 seconds before Ayers was fouled on the dribble. Ayers calmly swished both ends of the 1-and-1 to make it a two-possession game. Cohen then forced McCollum into a contested off-balance shot on the run, and McCollum missed a put-back attempt. Muscala grabbed the rebound and made two more at the line to finish it off.
Bucknell led for most of the first half, grabbing an early 8-2 lead with a run of eight straight points. The Bison then went more than six minutes without a field goal, although they did make eight free throws in that stretch, before Lehigh went up 14-13 with an 11-3 run.
But the Bison answered with nine straight points, highlighted by a Muscala dunk and a Cohen 3-pointer. At the 7:31 mark Muscala made two free throws to give Bucknell its largest lead at 26-16. Lehigh crept within two on a couple of occasions late in the half, and Willman's free throws with 1.2 seconds left put the Bison ahead 38-34 at the break.
Despite the foul trouble, it was another big night for Hill, who finished with four points, six rebounds and five assists. The trio of Ayers (3-5), Cohen (3-3) and Muscala (2-3) combined to go 8-for-11 from 3-point range, as the Bison shot 39.2 percent overall. Bucknell also had another strong game at the foul line, going 20-for-23.
With his two blocked shots, Muscala moved into sole possession of second place on Bucknell's all-time list with 162.
Bucknell is now 4-0 in conference play for the second straight year and for the fifth time as a member of the Patriot League. It was Bucknell's 14th straight victory against league foes dating back to last season, and it was its fifth straight road victory.
The win also pushed Bucknell 100 games over .500 (192-92) all-time in Patriot League play.
Bucknell and Lehigh were picked 1-2 in the Patriot League preseason poll, and they will meet again in Lewisburg on Feb. 16 in a game that will be televised on CBS College Sports.
The Bison return home Saturday to take on Holy Cross at 7 p.m. at Sojka Pavilion.