"The Rivalry" on the hardwood, of course, would be a big deal even if both teams were winless going into this so-called winter month, with Madness-like temperatures outside possibly reaching 70 degrees.
But with Bucknell and American, in effect, locking up the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the Patriot League tournament in March, this weekend's game, televised nationally on CBS College Sports this Sunday at 2:00 PM Eastern, will have gigantic implications for the incredibly valuable No. 3 seed. The winner will have the inside track at the No. 3 seed, a home game in the first round of the playoffs, and a fighting chance to play in the championship. The loser could be the No. 5 seed or worse, playing on the road in the first round and facing a very, very uphill climb at a shot at the Patriot League championship.
It's going to be a tense, emotional affair at Stabler this weekend, and the men's basketball team would have it no other way. (more)
Of course, it would have been less of a do-or-die game had the Mountain Hawks taken care of business against Colgate this Wednesday. And - much like the run-up to the first round of the hardwood "Rivalry" in January - the Hawks laid an egg, falling behind at home to cellar-dweller Colgate by double digits before making a furious comeback and forcing overtime.
Their 94-90 loss on Wednesday - where Lehigh expended all their energy to tie the game, to run out of gas in overtime - showed the best of the Mountain Hawks, and their worst.
In the category of "best" was - who else - sophomore G C.J. McCollum, with 31 points and 15 boards, including 11-13 from the foul line (two which came in regulation for the tie), sophomore F Gabe Knutson (11 points, 4 blocks) and senior G Michael Ojo (11 points, 3/3 for 3-point range).
But there was also a lot of "worst", most notably in the area of team defense. Sure, Colgate G Mike Venezia made a lot of his shots while contested, giving the Raiders 27 points of work. But F Yaw Gayaw's 20 point effort - on 10-for-12 shooting - was more troubling. Overall, Colgate shot 55% for the game - when you give up that sort of percentage, you won't win many games.
“I thought Colgate played an excellent game tonight,” said head coach Brett Reed. “I thought we gave them an opportunity to gain confidence. They made plays when they needed to and hit a number of contested shots. We used a great deal of energy to get back into the game, but ultimately fell short.”
If Lehigh pulls the same trick against Lafayette, they could get in deep trouble. Aside from the fact that this is a "Rivalry" game - and that Lafayette's seniors will be itching to pay back Lehigh for their humbling 79-62 defeat in January - with G Jim Mower (10.4 ppg, ) and F Jared "Double" Mintz (15.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg) playing the roles of Venezia and Gayaw, respectively.
It will take a much better effort - and, with any sort of luck, a large, partisan crowd - to bring Lehigh closer to a potential third round seed and - hopefully - a run in the Patriot League tournament. The game will take place on Sunday, at 2:00 PM, at Stabler Arena. John Feinstein and Bob Socci will be calling the action on CBS College Sports network, while Matt Kerr will be calling the game for ESPN 1230 and 1320, and Lehighsports.com.
Tomorrow evening will feature a different sort of "Rivalry" revenge match as well, at Kirby Field House on the Lafayette campus.
When Lehigh lost a shocker at home in January - a 57-54 defeat to last-place Lafayette - it was clear that the Lady Hawks' season was on the brink of disaster. Four league losses. 3-of-22 shooting - really! - in a 16:04 stretch of the second half, allowing the Lady Leopards to get back in the game. Lehigh was a team searching how to be a champion.
The Lady Hawks, though, led by senior G Erica Prosser, did figure it out. Boy, did they ever.
Start with six straight wins. Next, add the fact that Prosser exploded for twenty points or more in three of those wins - including 29 in a crucial game vs. league co-leader American. Next, add the gelling of junior F Alexa Williams (15 points vs. Colgate, 11 rebounds vs. American) and junior F Emily Gratch (21 points, 7 rebounds vs. Holy Cross) - and you have a six game winning streak for the Lady Hawks. Better yet, Lehigh lurks just outside American and Navy for the league lead - and the Lady Eagles and Midshipmen still have one face-off to go in the regular season.
Even with a relatively sloppy first half on Wednesday, Lehigh managed to set up another crucial game this Saturday for the Lady Hawks with a 72-65 win over Colgate.
“It was good to see how our kids competed after a rough first half,” said Lehigh head coach Sue Troyan. “It was those last five minutes of the first half that our kids competed well. We didn’t shoot great, but we shot much better in the second half.”
This Saturday's game will be played at 1:00 PM, and you can catch the action with Matt Markus on 91.3 WLVR or Lehighsports.com. You can also watch the action on Patriot League All-Access as well.
This Thursday, down 6-0 after two bouts and 9-6 halfway through the 10th-ranked Lehigh wrestling team won the final five bouts to knock off No. 7 Rutgers 21-9 in front of over 5,000 fans at Louis Brown Athletic Center. Three Mountain Hawks upset higher-ranked Rutgers opponents as Lehigh snaps the Scarlet Knights’ 16-dual winning streak as the Brown and White improve to 14-6 on the season and 5-1 against EIWA foes.
“It was a great environment tonight,” said Lehigh head coach Pat Santoro. “Rutgers really did a nice job promoting the match. We lost those first two, which put us in a hole but the guys responded well. We got key wins from Joey Napoli, Brandon Hatchett all the way through. It was an outstanding performance.”
Sophomore Robert Hamlin extended the lead with a 5-2 decision over Dan Rinaldi at 184, while junior Joe Kennedy clinched the dual for the Brown and White with a 3-2 win over Mike Wagner at 197. Wagner scored the only takedown of the match but Kennedy scored two escapes and rode out the third period despite nearly being reversed several times to win on riding time.
Lehigh's grapplers will be looking to keep their hot streak rolling as they take on unranked Penn this weekend at Leeman-Turner arena. First bout is a 1:00 PM, and can be seen on Lehighsports.com.