While most of the mid-major world was involved with Brackbuster Saturday, the Lehigh Mountain Hawks hosted their rival Lafayette in Patriot League action. Given some of the match-ups that were selected, I was quite happy to take the trip to the Lehigh Valley to take in this matchup. This rivalry has its roots in football, as the two teams have met 147 times, making it longest rivalry played without an interruption. However, while football is the top rivalry, the schools are rivals in all sports. Recently, the men's basketball team has experienced success against their rivals, winning five of the previous six meetings, including the 2010 Patriot League Championship won at Lehigh.
This year, the two teams have gone in different directions. Lehigh entered the game with an 8-3 record in conference play, tied for second in the Patriot League. They were also coming off a buzzer-beating win at Bucknell, the first time a Patriot League won at Sojka Pavilion since 2010. Lafayette, on the other hand, entered the game losing their last two to Holy Cross and Bucknell.
There were two ceremonies before the game. First, Lehigh honored junior Gabe Knutson for becoming the latest member of the 1,000 point club, meaning that of the 10 players who have achieved that mark, two (the other being C.J. McCollum) are members of the active roster (and both still have one more year to go). All the members of the club were present for a pre-game ceremony honoring Knuston for his accomplishment, and all members got a nice round of applause before the seniors were introduced.
The second ceremony was Senior Day. This is an annual tradition throughout all of college sports, where the members of the graduating class are recognized for their contributions to the program over the last four years before their last home game. Lehigh honored a trio of seniors, John Adams, Jordan Hamilton, and Justin Maneri. The three were introduced before the game, and given a standing ovation by the crowd.
One of the things I noticed just before the tip was that there actually were people at the game. True, it was against Lafayette, but Lehigh has a reputation of being apathetic towards basketball, particularly among the student body. I've given up trying to figure out the reason, but I think that the fact that Stabler Arena is located five miles on the other side of South Mountain has something to do with it, along with the general mindset of students. If students don't have their own car, they have to find a ride or take a bus (something that many simply don't want to do, especially during the winter months). As for the rest of the fan-base, Lehigh is simply a wrestling school, and while their matches are well attended, the remainder of the sports (except for football), are left in the dust. It really is a shame, because Lehigh basketball games are actually quite fun to attend, and for the most part, good to watch, especially recently. It seemed as if there were about 2,500 fans in attendance (the announced gate was 2,914), and I'm sure the rivalry, along with the local sports talk station pumping up the game that morning contributed to the attendance spike. The students that were in attendance were loud throughout the game, with a number of chants, something that I couldn't remember happening often. My favorite occurred during a Lafayette free-throw attemept, where the students chanted "You're not gonna make it. No you're not gonna make it. You're not gonna make it. Anymore." I can't remember who specifically was at the line for the Leopards, but he promptly missed both shots, causing the students to go nuts.
As for the game, Lehigh built on their momentum from their big win Thursday night. Maneri opened the scoring with a layup, and the Mountain Hawks opened the game on an 11-2 run. The lead reached as high as 12 before the Leopards got back into the game on the strength on an 11-4 run. The lead got down to three on a Dan Trist layup, but Lehigh responded with a 7-0 run to take a 38-28 lead at the half.
In the second half, Lehigh continued to build their lead. Lafayette pulled to within eight, but a 6-0 Mountain Hawk run pushed the lead back to double-digits. That would be as close as the Leopards would make it for the rest of the game. The lead continued to grow to 19, when Lehigh coach Brett Reed played the end of his bench, giving the entire team a chance to play. When reserve Corey Goodman scored, the Lehigh bench seemed to go nuts, as did much of the crowd. The final was 73-52. I left the game quite happy (a contrast from my previous Lehigh game against American). However, there is still plenty of work to be done for the Mountain Hawks to achieve their goal, a Patriot League Championship.
at LEHIGH 72, LAFAYETTE 53 02/18/2012
LAFAYETTE 11-16 (6-6) -- T. Johnson 5-8 2-2 12; R. Willen 7-16 0-0 16; J. Mower 0-5 0-0 0; R. Delaney 3-10 1-4 9; D. Trist 3-7 0-0 6; S. Hinrichs 2-5 0-0 5; N. Petkovich 1-5 0-0 3; L. Giese 0-3 0-0 0; L. Smith 0-1 0-0 0; J. Pelham 0-0 0-0 0; J. Detmer 0-1 2-2 2. Totals 21-61 5-8 53. LEHIGH 21-7 (9-3) -- J. Adams 5-8 2-4 14; C. McCollum 10-18 1-1 22; M. McKnight 2-6 0-0 4; J. Hamilton 2-6 0-0 4; B. Bailey 3-5 0-0 7; G. Knutson 2-6 6-8 10; J. Maneri 4-5 1-2 9; C. Schaefer 0-1 0-0 0; H. Greiner 0-2 0-0 0; A. D'Orazio 0-0 0-0 0; S. Cvrkalj 0-0 0-0 0; C. Baltimore 0-0 0-0 0; C. Goodman 1-2 0-0 2; T. Staggers 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 29-59 10-15 72.
Three-point goals: LAF 6-20 (T. Johnson 0-1; R. Delaney 2-5; J. Mower 0-2; N. Petkovich 1-4; R. Willen 2-4; L. Giese 0-1; J. Detmer 0-1; S. Hinrichs 1-2), LEH 4-17 (J. Adams 2-3; J. Hamilton 0-4; B. Bailey 1-2; H. Greiner 0-1; C. McCollum 1-4; M. McKnight 0-1; C. Goodman 0-1; C. Schaefer 0-1); Rebounds: LAF 26 (R. Delaney 6), LEH 38 (J. Adams 10); Assists: LAF 11 (T. Johnson 4), LEH 13 (M. McKnight 5); Total Fouls -- LAF 18, LEH 15; Fouled Out: LAF-L. Giese; LEH-None.