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Men's Basketball: Quarterfinals: Navy

Patriot League basketball is fun - and terrifying - because it all comes down to winning three games in March.

The first of these games is tonight, where the Mountain Hawks could be playing their final game at Stabler Arena one way or another against Navy.

Whether you head to Stabler to provide a true home-court advantage to the Mountain Hawks, listen to the game with Matt Kerr and Greg Falkenbach on ESPN 1230 and 1320, or you catch the game on Patriot League All-Access, you'll be taking part in the most terrifying game of the season - unless Lehigh wins, where you'll get to do it all over again on Sunday. (more)

"This is an exciting time of the year and anything can happen," the 'good doctor', head coach Brett Reed, shared with me. "I hope we will be playing good basketball tonight. Although some of our players have had post-season experience from last year, most were in entirely different roles. I hope the maturity gained through the course of the regular season will serve us well as we attempt this post-season journey."

A glass-half-empty type might look at Lehigh's season-ending two-game losing streak on the road to Bucknell and Holy Cross, and fear the worst.  Add to it Navy's resounding season-closing blowout win over Colgate, and Lehigh's shaky recent postseason record against the Academies, and the nerves jangle just a bit more.

Add to that a 1-1 record against Navy, their only win coming in 2004 in overtime, 62-60, and you might think it might be time to take a page out of Villanova or Georgetown fans' playbooks and start looking for the nearest ledge.

But a glass-half-full type would point to the fact that Navy is one of two teams that Lehigh has swept this year - and has only won two of their Patriot League road games this year by a grand total of seven points.

Adding to the encouragement for Lehigh is that one of their wins, a 71-63 victory back in January, was one of Lehigh's best games of the year. Down 61-56 with only 3:25 left to play, the Mountain hawks responded with 15 of the game’s final 17 points, including senior G Michael Ojo's huge 3-pointer that gave Lehigh the lead for good.

"I was proud and pleased we were able to get this victory because it’s such a hard-fought win," said the good doctor after that game, which could be a preview of what to expect tonight as well. "It was a slugfest, an extremely physical game. Neither team was able to get into rhythm, particularly due to the [other] team’s defensive intensity."

It's no surprise that G C.J. McCollum - who somehow lost the Patriot League Most Valuable player award this year to Bucknell F Mike Muscala - had two fantastic games vs. Navy, getting a combined 43 points and 20 rebounds vs. the Midshipmen. It's also not a surprise that fellow sophomore F Gabe Knutson had some banner days as well, with a combined 29 points and 16 boards as well.

Another big factor in Lehigh's wins were team defense. Navy is a team that loves to shoot the 3 point shot, and the fact that the Mountain Hawks held G Jordan Sugars, G Isaiah Roberts and freshman sensation F/G J.J. Avila to about 35% from 3-point range were a major reason why Lehigh won those games.

"I feel we really need to focus on defending the three-point line," coach Reed told me. "It seems that when Navy has been at their best, they utilize the three-point shot."

Crucial to this game will, I think, be the play of G Prentice Small, whose presence in the backcourt gives Lehigh a solid ballhandler. If he can have a big game - and keep the number of turnovers down - I think Lehigh has an excellent chance to advance.

"We hope to negate their opportunities in transition, off penetration and by defending ball screen pick and pop shots," coach Reed told me. "We will also have to take care of the basketball because our turnover numbers in our previous two meetings were too high."

It's terrifying, incredible, thrilling and wonderful - all at the same time. And it gets started tonight at Stabler. Find a way to catch this game.


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