Bethlehem, PA (Sports Network) - C.J. McCollum poured in a game-best 20 points to go with seven rebounds, as the top-seeded Lehigh Mountain Hawks punched their ticket to the NCAA Tournament with a 74-59 victory over the third-seeded Lafayette Leopards in the championship game of the Patriot League Tournament at Stabler Arena.
Zahir Carrington added 18 points and 10 rebounds for the Mountain Hawks (22-10), who won their first Patriot League crown since 2004. The victory propels Lehigh into the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in school history (1985, 1988, 2004).
"This is something we've been working towards over the last four years," Carrington said. "We didn't achieve the type of success we had wanted our first three years, so we set out to change that this season. It really all started last year when our women's team won the Patriot League championship. Watching them win the title and sharing in the celebration gave us a boost and lit a fire underneath us."
Dave Buchberger and Michael Ojo donated 13 and 11 points, respectively, for the Mountain Hawks, who set a school mark for victories in a single season with 22.
Ryan Willen tallied 16 points and 10 rebounds for the Leopards (19-13), who were making their first appearance in the Patriot League title game since 2000. Jeff Kari added 10 points off the bench in defeat.
Trailing 51-42, the Leopards ripped off eight straight points to get within one. Jim Mower capped the flurry with a three-pointer, making it a 51-50 contest with less than 11 minutes to play in the game.
But Lehigh closed the tilt on a 23-9 run to seal the victory. Carrington tallied 10 points during the burst.
Lehigh led 35-29 at the half.
Carrington's slam had the Mountain Hawks ahead 42-33 early in the second half. The Leopards were able to keep things tight by going on a 9-2 flurry, which Kari ended with a layup to make it 44-42 with 13 1/2 minutes remaining.
Lehigh then went on to score seven consecutive points to create some breathing room again. Buchberger's trey made it a 51-42 contest with 12:15 left.
Lafayette still has a commanding lead in the all-time series with Lehigh, 138-75....McCollum scored 16 points in the first half...Lafayette and Lehigh now hold two Patriot League crowns apiece...The Mountain Hawks shot 49.1 percent from the field, while the Leopards made 36.4 percent of their shots.
03/13 01:05:24 ET