Game #9-091: Lehigh at Sacred Heart PioneersNovember 25, 2012 2:00 pm
William Pitt Center
FAIRFIELD, Conn. - You had me at "unfinished business", C.J. McCollum.
Actually, you probably had me at Lehigh beating Duke in the NCAA Tournament, but close enough.
Conventional wisdom had McCollum going pro after his stellar junior campaign. McCollum had 30 points in Lehigh's upset, the second No. 15 over No. 2 upset in a matter of hours (Norfolk St. had the other) on that glorious Friday here at the Mid-majority.
But, in a well-written letter
worthy of a journalism major that included "unfinished business" for his team, McCollum announced he was coming back to Lehigh for his senior year. As noble as coming back to school after being in the national spotlight is, it doesn't always work out gloriously, as we found out with a very similar player, Stephen Curry, in Davidson's 2008-09 season
After reading his letter and his story, I wanted McCollum to be the pick of the Picket Fences for Season 9 here. I also knew I would get to see him a couple of times during the season, but he was long gone before we got to select (we ended up with South Dakota State's Nate Wolters, so we did OK for ourselves).
While pro scouts see a lot of Curry in C.J. McCollum, the atmosphere at the Pitt Center could attest to the fact that there would be no circus following McCollum in his senior season. In fact, there would barely be a church carnival. Unlike Davidson, Lehigh did not ramp up its non-conference schedule after their breakthrough, although they did open at Baylor. If they had beaten Pittsburgh in the Preseason NIT, they would have gotten a couple of high-profile games at Madison Square Garden, but that didn't happen. Good old Fate.
(Also ironically, McCollum's opposite number for this game, Sacred Heart sophomore guard Phil Gaetano lists Stephen Curry
as his favorite NBA player in the SHU Media Guide.)
One thing that will probably be forgotten about the Lehigh/McCollum story last season was that the Mountain Hawks (I like Engineers better, personally, but I'm not in charge, I guess technically McCollum isn't going there to be an engineer, but whatever) actually had a double-digit lead in the second round game against Xavier before McCollum got into foul trouble. Lehigh came back again to tie the game with eight minutes left, but eventually fell 70-58, with McCollum suffering through a miserable 5-of-22 (0-of-6 from three-point range) shooting afternoon.
If McCollum had led Lehigh to the Sweet 16, would the school have ramped up its non-conference slate to gain more exposure? Would McCollum be back at all? Ah, the hands of Fate strike again.
I got to Sacred Heart about 30 minutes before the game and there were a few dozen people in the stands. Someone was trying to convince his friend that these were the guys who beat Duke last season, but he wasn't having it. "No way, man, these guys?" Fortunately, most phones
these days come with the Internet, so the argument didn't last long.
I love the Pitt Center because it's a half-hour from my home, but it has to be one of the worst facilities in Division I: cavernous with the seats nowhere near the court, an annoying din coming from the antiquated sound system all afternoon, and zero atmosphere. On the plus side, I always get a good seat, center court for this game, even though I tripped over a brick on the seat next
to me. Yes, a brick.
It certainly didn't seem like an atmosphere worthy of someone like McCollum. As I pointed out when I saw Nate Wolters at Hofstra
, it's frustrating for us that more people don't know how talented guys like McCollum are not going to come around these parts very often. But no use preaching to the choir, I guess.
It was one of the coldest days of the fall in the northeast, and most of the students were still on Thanksgiving break, so evidently they were trying to save a few bucks by keeping the temperature down. I had a jacket, but McCollum looked visibly uncomfortable, blowing on his hands repeatedly and jumping up and down before tipoff. It didn't affect his shooting, though, he drilled his first two shots to go up 5-0.
Unfortunately from a neutral perspective, this game was never a contest. Lehigh led from start to finish, and after McCollum already had four #superhoops, his steal and dunk (giving him 16 points) put Lehigh up 35-19 with 8:15 to go in the first half.
Sacred Heart was coming off a road victory over defending America East regular season champion Stony Brook, but they are banged up. Their starting backcourt of Chris Evans and Evan Kelley both appear to be out long-term, and forward Justin Swidowski has been fighting a shoulder ailment. Heck, even the SHU cheerleader that used to go to the high school where I work was out with an injury.
Still, Lehigh put them away in a barrage of outside shots. McCollum's jumper with 12:53 left gave Lehigh a 74-45 lead, but more importantly broke Rob Feaster's Patriot League scoring record (2,224), with at least 20 games still to go in his career. Perhaps because it was a foregone conclusion, it wasn't even celebrated.
It should be pointed out that Lehigh does have other players as well. Junior point guard Mackey McKnight was key in its postseason run in March, while senior Holden Greiner scored 16 points on 3-of-4 shooting from three-point range, adding seven rebounds and three steals, a necessary weapon at 6-foot-8. It's most certainly a veteran squad.
It was also a tough day for one of my favorite Mid-majority players, Sacred Heart senior Shane Gibson. He finished with 18 points, but struggled shooting and was hounded by McCollum and McKnight for most of the afternoon. Without his injured teammates to take some of the pressure off him, he got frustrated and picked up a technical foul midway through the second half.
As it turned out, my seat happened to be in the row behind Kindra Reed, the wife of Lehigh coach Brett Reed (or Dr. Brett Reed
). Through some sense of irony, I actually checked out Lehigh's campus Saturday because I was early for the Lafayette-Princeton game, so I know it's about a three-hour drive. The Reeds brought the whole family to Fairfield, including their newborn son (they have three kids: another daughter and son). At one point, after a McCollum drive through traffic with a nice finish, she told her son, "See, that's how I used to do it."
Reed seems like a composed young coach, as opposed to a screamer. He did have to call a time out after the Pioneers scored seven points in a row in the second half that barely made a dent in the Lehigh lead. As the team gathered around him, he calmly said, "What the hell are we doing here? Four possessions in a row, we gave them easy looks. Let's go." And that was it.
Like McCollum, you wonder if you'd know Reed's name a little more if Lehigh had beaten Xavier (it's his sixth season at Lehigh). Would he be tempted to go above the Red Line soon? We obviously hope not, but a look at his young family sitting in the crowd makes it hard to argue if he gets a better deal somewhere else.
Lehigh returns to Connecticut on Tuesday at Quinnipiac, which means I'll be there, but the Reed family will not, getting home after midnight would be a little late on a school night. In fact, the Lehigh team took the bus home right after the game and will return after class on Monday. Yes, going to actual classes on campus still matters in some institutions.
It was a stress-free afternoon for pretty much everyone in the Lehigh camp, as they look forward. It is not a real ambitious non-conference schedule, meaning that there is little to no chance of the Mountain Hawks receiving an at-large NCAA Tournament bid. The Patriot League does have home-court advantage in its tournament, but it's likely that whether McCollum has another chance to make himself a household name will come down to one Patriot League final against Bucknell in early March (Lehigh won at Bucknell last season in the final).
Such is life below the Red Line.
McCollum never really had to push himself, so although he scored 26 points, it was hard to get much of a read on him, except that he can score. There is no real media area at the Pitt Center, so McCollum came back onto the court to talk with the local media. He made sure to shake their hands (there were only three), signed a couple of autographs for some young kids (evidently, they knew who he was), and that was it.
Sometimes it's nice to be out of the spotlight and just be a college student, no matter how good a player you are.LEHIGH 91, at SACRED HEART 77
LEHIGH 4-2 (0-0) -- C. McCollum 8-14 5-7 26; M. McKnight 2-5 4-4 8; H. Greiner 6-9 2-2 17; G. Knutson 8-12 2-4 18; A. D'Orazio 2-8 0-0 4; S. Cvrkalj 5-7 0-0 14; C. Schaefer 1-3 0-0 2; C. Baltimore 0-3 2-2 2; J. Goldsborough 0-1 0-0 0; D. Carter 0-0 0-0 0; C. Goodman 0-1 0-0 0; T. Staggers 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 32-63 15-19 91.
SACRED HEART 2-3 (0-0) -- S. Gibson 6-15 3-3 18; P. Gaetano 1-4 0-0 3; J. Swidowski 4-5 1-1 10; L. Montes 4-11 5-8 13; S. Glowiak 5-10 0-0 13; F. Akinpetide 3-7 2-3 8; N. Greenbacker 2-2 0-0 6; T. Falzon 0-5 1-2 1; D. Tate 1-1 1-2 3; M. Abdel Latif 0-0 0-0 0; L. Cramer 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 27-61 13-19 77.
Three-point goals: LEH 12-22 (H. Greiner 3-4; C. McCollum 5-7; A. D'orazio 0-3; M. McKnight 0-1; S. Cvrkalj 4-6; C. Schaefer 0-1), SH 10-23 (S. Gibson 3-8; N. Greenbacker 2-2; J. Swidowski 1-2; S. Glowiak 3-5; L. Montes 0-2; P. Gaetano 1-3; T. Falzon 0-1); Rebounds: LEH 33 (H. Greiner 7), SH 31 (J. Swidowski 10); Assists: LEH 17 (M. McKnight 6), SH 10 (P. Gaetano 6); Total Fouls -- LEH 16, SH 19; Fouled Out: LEH-None; SH-J. Swidowski.