Wednesday night I returned to St. John's for the second round of the 2k Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs Cancer. The final four teams in the "tournament" are already being advertised here prior to the outcome of this game and the subsequent games. If this is a showcase event, that's fine, I'm okay with that, but they kind of market this thing under the guise of a tournament complete with brackets. Shouldn't Akron now be headed to MadisonSquareGarden? Those qualms aside I'm just happy to be out here watching some college basketball.
Next to the Carnesseca Arena on the northeast corner of St. John's campus sits an oddity that may be unique in college athletics. A small number of college basketball home courts are located in a structure not on the first floor. BostonUniversity's Case Gymnasium, LIU-Brooklyn's Wellness, Recreation and AthleticCenter and QueensCollege's FitzGerald Gym (Division II) are all excellent examples of this. I always tend to note the differences that make each venue special and I have to admit to being a huge fan of these rare "floating" playing surfaces since I'm basically a sports geek. Some of them are placed over a natatorium or fitness center due to space constraints. St. John's has a "floating" multi-purpose athletic field called Belson Stadium that sits above a parking garage. It is currently home to men's and women's soccer at the university. If there are other fields like this out there let me know, I'd love to see them one day.
As I approached the court to take my seat I noticed Steve Lavin was back in action earlier than he had stated he would be. It is great to have him back. The crowd was much earlier arriving tonight than on Monday's game and the student sections were more filled and much louder. Tonight had the atmosphere of a mid season game. This was not good news for LehighUniversity. Lehigh, being much closer to New York City than William and Mary had a small smattering of fans in attendance.
If you have ever visited the Stabler Arena where Lehigh plays its home games you may not have seen the main campus at Lehigh which is located a short distance away at a different area. Lehigh's main campus is built into the side of a mountain and the views are absolutely stunning from the top as it overlooks town. Suffice to say the Mountain Hawks are appropriately named.
This is the opening game of the season for Lehigh. They bring experience, some size, and dangerous guard C.J. McCollum. From the tip this game began to play much like Monday nights game with Lehigh taking a large early lead on excellent long range shooting. Lehigh's first 15 points all came on three point shots taking a page from William and Mary's strategy that had success again this team. St John's is still somewhat vulnerable as three of their vaunted incoming class remain ineligible for this semester. Lehigh was content to slow the game down and the officials were calling the game more tightly tonight. When Lehigh sprinted to a 16 point lead in the first half at 36-20 I thought it might be too difficult for St. John's to overcome. Despite being down the student section kept the intensity up and St. John's began to turn up the defensive intensity earlier tonight than last game.
God's Gift Achiuwa had his best game so far and looked dominant against Lehigh low post players like Gabe Knutson who played well himself. Slowly the lead began to disappear and the game eventually became tied with 3:40 to go in the second half. Lehigh went cold during the second half but never stopped fighting. Knutson made a huge rebound and put back getting fouled in the process and converting the free throw to temporarily halt the comeback. St. John's went on to pull away from there winning a close game 78-73.
No red line upset on this night but I think this might be the beginning, barring injury, of a great season for Lehigh. They came close to beating Patriot League rival Bucknell in the Patriot League conference tournament last year and should give them a run for the title again this year.
at SAINT JOHN'S 78, LEHIGH 73 11/09/2011
LEHIGH 0-1 (0-0) -- C. McCollum 6-17 4-4 19; H. Greiner 5-7 0-0 12; G. Knutson 6-9 4-4 16; J. Hamilton 3-10 0-0 7; M. McKnight 0-6 1-2 1; C. Schaefer 2-6 0-0 5; J. Adams 2-6 2-2 6; A. D'Orazio 2-2 0-1 5; C. Baltimore 0-1 0-0 0; J. Maneri 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 27-65 11-13 73. SAINT JOHN'S 2-0 (0-0) -- N. Lindsey 5-9 5-9 15; G. Achiuwa 6-6 9-9 21; M. Harkless 6-12 2-5 15; D. Harrison 1-5 9-12 12; S. Pointer 2-3 2-4 6; M. Stith 3-5 0-1 6; P. Greene 0-2 3-4 3. Totals 23-42 30-44 78.
Three-point goals: LEH 8-26 (J. Adams 0-3; J. Hamilton 1-6; H. Greiner 2-3; C. McCollum 3-7; A. D'orazio 1-1; M. McKnight 0-3; C. Schaefer 1-3), STJ 2-9 (P. Greene 0-1; M. Harkless 1-3; N. Lindsey 0-2; D. Harrison 1-3); Rebounds: LEH 32 (C. McCollum 9), STJ 26 (G. Achiuwa 8); Assists: LEH 14 (G. Knutson 3), STJ 7 (M. Stith 1); Total Fouls -- LEH 31, STJ 17; Fouled Out: LEH-M. McKnight; STJ-None.