It was more of a battle than some in the state of Kansas thought.
Kansas did have to bring more than their "C" game.
But Kansas is an awfully good team, and their physical play wore down a game Lehigh team in the end. They are a well-deserved No. 1 team and No. 1 seed.
Lehigh did its best Rocky impersonation. The Mountain Hawks have nothing to be ashamed of, battling hard until the very end.
But Kansas, coach Bill Self and the rest of the Jayhawks were better. And they're a great team.
Good luck Jayhawks through the rest of the tournament. (more)
It's official: we gave a scare to the biggest boys of all in the NCAA tournament:
For a while, it appeared Lehigh was going to take down the biggest Goliath of them all.After the lead-up to the game where it being spun as a laugher: the team with a "googolplex-to-1" chance of winning the NCAA tournament - Lehigh's now portrayed as the scrappy, never-say-die team that reminds folks around the country of Rocky. On a day of double-digit seeds pulling off upset after upset, Yahoo! columnist Dan Wetzel noted that "Even Kansas, the prohibitive favorite to win the national championship, got all it could handle from 16-seed Lehigh for much of the game."
Top-seeded Kansas hung in and survived a scare before pulling away for a 90-74 win over scrappy Lehigh and avoiding a monumental upset in the Midwest Regional Thursday night.
Sophomore F Marcus Morris had 26 points and senior G Sherron Collins added 18 as Kansas (33-2) fell into its season-long pattern of playing in spurts, giving No. 16 seed Lehigh (22-11) hope of making college basketball history.
The Jayhawks led by just six in the first half and didn't pull away until midway through the second to keep from becoming the biggest team to be crossed off the brackets on a wild opening day of the NCAA tournament.
Kansas had history on its side, too: No. 1 seeds were 101-0 before tip-off.(Cue Lehigh fight song here.)
And this was a classically monumental mismatch: the tiny academic school (enrollment of 4,700) from Bethlehem, Pa., against the powerhouse program with a place on college basketball's Mount Rushmore.
Even after winning a school-record 22 games this season and the Patriot League title game over rival Lafayette, the Mountain Hawks figured to be in trouble, especially with the Ford Center bathed in Kansas blue from all the fans who made the five-hour trip from Lawrence.
Lehigh wasn't buying it.
Even Holy Cross alum Bill Simmons got in on the act too, as folks opined about what it would mean to their brackets if Lehigh won:
[Comment From Josh: ]Lehigh to Kansas: "You ain't so bad! You ain't so bad!"
[Comment From Brown: ]OMG. Can you imagine the bracket busting damage of a Lehigh win tonight? The improbability would be up there with Holy Cross winning the "hottest cheerleaders" contest .
sportsguy33:It would be a bracket nuclear bomb.
[Comment From ben: ]bracket napalm
I'm sure it's scant comfort now to the members of the men's basketball team - especially senior G Dave Buchburger, senior G Marquis Hall and senior F Zahir Carrington who so epitomized that scrap - to know their basketball careers are over in Brown & White. But when they get back and get a chance to reflect on their NCAA appearance, there will be lots to appreciate the rest of their lives.
“I’d like to give credit to our seniors who made a terrific run throughout the entire course of the season,” head coach Brett Reed said after the game. “They did a wonderful job of representing our program, doing so with class, molding and forming a team into a family and then obviously with a number of other student-athletes within our program that represented us with class as well as with character, and gave us a wonderful year and certainly one to be proud of.”
Carrington's denial of All-American junior C Cole Aldrich is something that he'll never forget - a play where Zahir looked nothing like the starting forward on a 16 seed. Carrington played like a man possessed all game - and never intimidated underneath among the tall trees. While his game was just monstrous, his elevation over Aldrich to deny him the basket in many ways epitomizes the entire team and how they weren't intimidated at all.
Down by 11 after a big Kansas run, Lehigh was starting to flag in the first half. But Hall would dribble down and drain a huge 3 - saying, "My ball" to the rest of the country - which sparked a 9-0 run to close the gap to 2 points. At a time when Kansas might have thought that Lehigh would fold like a cheap suitcase, Hall's leadership spurred Lehigh back in the game - and made Jayhawk Nation start to shift nervously in their seats. Hall's final pass to Carrington as the clock was winding down - and their final play as Lehigh players - gave Mountain Hawks fans one last, wonderful look at the magic Hall and Carrington were going to weave.
“I think it was just our team attitude in general," Hall said after the game. "You know, when we were coming back, basketball is a game of runs, and they were making their runs and we were coming to the huddle during the media segment or a timeout. We would say now it’s time to make our run. It’s the attitude of our team to never give up. We play the full 40 minutes, no matter what happens.”
Buchburger was a critical factor in making it a game for Lehigh as well. Every time Kansas would try to rally the crowd and stomp on Lehigh's throat, Buch would cooly drain a 3 and seem to say, "We're still here, guys." Kansas head coach Bill Self almost looked like he was going to blow a gasket against his team all game - Lehigh, especially after jumping to a 12-4 lead, got under his skin. (Another Patriot League champion getting under Bill Self's skin.)
“We’re happy we won. I don’t think we played great," Self said after the game. "I think Lehigh played very, very well. I think we played tight early and the lid came off the basket. I thought Lehigh played very hard and they got a terrific player, and fortunately junior G Tyrel Reed and Marcus Morris stepped up and had really big games for us offensively.”
Another huge performance that shouldn't be forgotten? Freshman F Gabe Knutson. Most forwards might have been intimidated to go underneath with Aldrich and the Morris twins beating them up underneath, but Gabe fought extremely hard for everything he got underneath. Of those 12 points in the 12-4 lead, it was Knutson who got six of those on a jumper about four extremely hard-earned free throws. Even in the second half he was driving into the lane and making Aldrich look foolish a couple of times on drives, and when he went out with foul trouble the effect was undeniable. (What did Knutson think of the all-American center after the game? "He was pretty good," he quipped.)
And what more can be said about freshman G C.J. McCollum, who ended with 26 points 3 assists and 7 rebounds? The CBS announcers were gushing about his ability in the second half to slip behind and get tip-ins in front of Kansas' huge frontcourt. While he struggled a bit early, in the second half he showed the whole nation what Lehgih fans have known for some time: that he's a special, "magic" (to take Bill Self's expression) player. The announcers gushed, "How does a guy like that slip through the cracks in recruiting?"
I'm sure I'm missing some players - junior G Michael Ojo, sophomore C David Safstrom, and everyone else who made an impact (head coach Brett Reed was subbing folks in like crazy, trying to go at Kansas' frontcourt in waves to try to keep up with them). I wish I had enough space to write a paragraph on everybody, including coach Reed. But not enough can be said about the whole team, and that never-say-die attitude that was so easy to pick up on during the national broadcast and validated what Lehigh fans have known all along about this team. There were some exciting games going on at the same time, but CBS didn't cut away from the game much. There were a lot of folks out there wondering if Lehigh could pull it off.
For Kansas' part, they started out very slow and sluggish, and it showed. But as the game wore on the depth, athleticism and execution defense really wore down the Mountain Hawks. I realized the way Kansas wins games on defense: they get their bodies out to block the basketball, ruining the passing rotation. Lehigh saw a lot of kicked balls by Collins, and many passes that were picked out of the lanes by Jayhawk players which did a nice job of disrupting Lehigh's outside shots. And with about ten minutes to play, you could see Lehigh was gassed as Kansas was getting the second-chance shots off of rebounds. And when junior G Brady Morningstar started to bring his "A" game and drain 3's from the outside, you got a glimpse of how great this Kansas team actually can be.
Lehigh has three mammoth-sized holes to fill this offseason. C.J. will grow into becoming the leader on this team, but junior G Prentice Small seems the heir apparent. Buchburger's sharpshooting replacement seems like it's junior G Michael Ojo's to lose, while underneath Carrington's huge shoes are not going to be easy to replace either. Safstrom, sophomore F John Adams or freshman F Holden Grenier will be in the mix. But just the thought of a Buchburger, Hall and Carrington-less team really underscores the point of how much they meant to this team.
I couldn't be prouder of this Lehigh team. Again, I'm sure it's small comfort now, but I'm confident that in the years to come every member of this team can be proud of how they represented themselves, the school, and the Patriot League. If Georgetown had one ounce of the fight that Lehigh showed in this game last night, they'd have been in the national championship game. Guys, get a copy of the tape and watch it the rest of your lives. You have everything to be proud of.