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St. Joe's Hawks Swoop Into Bethlehem

(Photo Credit: The Cincinnati Enquirer)

Mercifully, our Mountain Hawk doesn't attempt to flap his wings during every minute of every half during men's basketball games.

Though hopefully our Mountain Hawk will be, let's just say, around the "other" flapping Hawk for some serious mocking action at 7:00 p.m. tonight at Stabler Arena as St. Joe's swoop in for the biggest men's basketball game in Stabler in years.

Normally, I wouldn't be advocating that our Lehigh men's basketball team mock anybody, never mind in December. But after a torrid 5-1 start - including a win over Rutgers of the Big East, capping off the most successful November Run in Lehigh men's basketball history - you can say quite resoundingly that the Mountain Hawks have earned the right to trash talk.

(Although this game could be hazardous to my health. I've already talked too much trash to my wife, a Rutgers alumna, about the Hawks' win over the Scarlet Knights. What if Lehigh also beat St. Joe's, the school that my father-in-law went to? I'd have to wear kevlar to Christmas dinner.)

Could Lehigh (5-1, RPI 125) do the unthinkable and also beat a team from the Atlantic 10 in St. Joe's (2-3, RPI 137) to start off the year? At home, Lehigh has a real chance to do just that - and against a team that not long ago was the No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, too.

(Side note: Ever for a million years think St. Joe's head coach Phil Martelli (now in his 14th year with the Hawks) looked at this game on the schedule and said, See, troops? This is the game that will improve your GPI! I didn't think so.)

The Hawks have played a brutal schedule to start the year, and have somewhat of a jumbled record. Unlike Lehigh, they beat Rider at home (69-57), and also drilled perennial NCAA Tournament team Indiana (80-54). But they lost to another Patriot League team this year in Holy Cross (73-69) and lost to two power conference teams in Alabama (58-48) and Texas (68-50). Those last two games were at the Maui Invitational last week, and the Hawks have just enjoyed a five-day layoff from those brutal games.

First and foremost, key to a Lehigh victory would be something that hasn't been a big factor in Lehigh men's basketball in recent years - a large, vocal, involved crowd packed with students. If we get an intimate weekday gathering of 500 well-wishers, that ain't cutting it. If we can get a loud 1,500-2,000 in Stabler tonight, the Mountain Hawks will stand a good chance of winning.

We'll also need yet another solid gold performance from our emerging inside-outside combo of junior F Zahir Carrington (14.7 ppg, 6.3 rpg) and junior G Marquis Hall (14.5 ppg, 4.3 assists pg). Both will need to be in solid double-digits to have a chance - but with St. Joe's solid perimeter defense (only allowing 28.6% from 3-point range) - it's Hall who might struggle to reach 10 points.

They'll have their hands full, though, against what ought to be a powerful inside-outside combination from St. Joe's with forward Ahmad Nivins (18.0 ppg, 10.8 rpg) and guards Darin Govens (13.8 ppg, 42.4% 3-pointers) and Tasheed Carr (13.2 ppg, 43.9% 3-pointers). If Govens and Carr get hot from the 3 point line, it could be a really long night. However, Lehigh has been making Stabler arena a palace of defense lately: in their last seven games at home, they've held every opponent to under 70 points.

One place where Lehigh might have a slight advantage is on the boards. With Hall and Carrington, senior F Phil Anderson is also averaging over 5 rebounds a game (6.5). Winning the battle on the boards could be the difference in the game for the Mountain Hawks.

One thing's for sure: if you can't be there in person (and it should be the best non "Rivalry"-themed basketball game in Stabler in years), you can check it out on Service Electric 2 in the Lehigh Valley, FCS Atlantic nationally, or watch the streaming game online courtesy of Lehigh Sports.com.

I can't wait!

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