Game #9-256: Lehigh Mountain Hawks at Virginia Commonwealth RamsJanuary 5, 2013 5:00 pm
I had to hustle back to Richmond from Farmville to check out mid-major greatness C.J. McCollum and the Lehigh Mountain Hawks take on VCU for a 5PM tip in Richmond. I knew there was a possibility that I wouldn't make it, but who could pass up a game like this? I thought I'd see a good game, but not such a heart-wrenching game.
I realized on the drive back to Richmond that I saw McCollum before McCollum was cool. Before he became the "Duke Slayer," I remember a time that I was on the same drive from Farmville to Richmond thinking, "who the heck was that guy!?!". There was a game in McCollum's freshman year where the Mountain Hawks visited Longwood right after Christmas and the young McCollum dropped a smooth 21 on my Lancers. Lehigh took down Longwood 89-78 that day.
Since then, McCollum has become a national name and a mid-major legend. But the "Duke Slayer"? Not in Richmond, Virginia...that term is reserved for VCU legend Eric Maynor who dropped a teardrop dagger on the Blue Devils in the NCAA tournament in 2007. Every VCU fan or basketball ball fan in Richmond still has the mental image of that ball floating in the basket across the ugly court of Buffalo, New York. It's one of those performances that will live forever and was pretty much replicated by the talented McCollum five years later.
I thought coming into the game that if Lehigh was going to have a chance then they were going to need their senior guard to have one heck of a night. VCU was on a roll, winning eight straight and winning their last four games by an average margin over 37 points. I hadn't seen Lehigh play this year and I wasn't sure of what the Mountain Hawks had beyond McCollum.
Some teams can't withstand the initial shock of playing at VCU. There is the vicious press. There are the even more vicious fans. Lehigh looked like one of those teams who were going to fall victim early as they seemed to trail by nine or ten points for most of the first half. Then "IT" happened....
McCollum, who has having a pretty poor shooting night, drove to the lane and came up hobbling on a routine play. I knew he had been battling some injuries earlier in the year so I figured he just re-aggravated that injury. Obviously, despite this being a clash among mid-major royalty, the most important thing for both teams was conference play. I also thought that an injury like this would deflate the Mountain Hawks, but it was the opposite as they rallied to take a 30-29 lead into the half.
McCollum reemerged in the second half but on crutches. I later learned that he thought he had broken his foot and he was right. I also read that over fifty NBA scouts requested attendance to this game but there was only room for about thirty-five. It was a shame that C.J. would not get to perform for all of these scouts in attendance.
Lehigh never gave up. There was a moment in the second half where the Rams had stretched their lead to five and you thought they would pull away. Not the case...Lehigh was a team that was well coached and had clearly played in some big games and hostile environments before. I'm sure with McCollum's injury that many will concede the Patriot League to Bucknell, but this Lehigh team can still play at a high level. In the end, Darius Theus and Traveon Graham iced the game for VCU hitting free throws down the stretch and escaping with a 59-55 victory.
Graham had a rough night from the floor, but was the Rams top scorer with 17 points and 5 assists. Lehigh kept VCU big man Juvonte Reddic at bay with just 4 points and 5 rebounds. Many people thought that this game was a NBA audition for Reddic as well, so he can't be happy with his individual performance. Senior forward Holden Greiner was the star for the Mountain Hawks. He showed a lot of veteran leadership and ended the night with 17 points and 9 rebounds; he also made some big threes throughout the game.
This tough battle should propel both teams nicely into conference play. VCU has their inaugural Atlantic-10 contest on Wednesday with 10-4 Dayton coming to town, while Lehigh will have a non-DI tune up versus Muhlenburg Tuesday before hosting a 7-7 Holy Cross squad.
The diagnoses for McCollum now is indeed a broken foot, which will likely keep him out until mid-March at the earliest. Mid-major fans have to feel robbed of what was lining up to be an awesome Patriot League race between Lehigh and Bucknell, but an even more exciting Player of the Year race between McCollum and Mike Muscala. There is a chance that McCollum could find his way back for the Patriot League tournament, so keep your fingers crossed.
at VIRGINIA COMMONWEALTH 59, LEHIGH 55
LEHIGH 9-4 (0-0) -- H. Greiner 6-13 2-4 17; M. McKnight 2-11 0-0 5; C. Schaefer 2-4 3-4 9; G. Knutson 4-7 2-4 10; A. D'Orazio 3-5 0-0 6; C. McCollum 0-5 4-4 4; B. Bailey 0-0 0-0 0; C. Baltimore 0-0 2-2 2; S. Cvrkalj 0-1 0-0 0; J. Goldsborough 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 18-47 13-18 55.
VIRGINIA COMMONWEALTH 12-3 (0-0) -- T. Daniels 4-11 0-0 11; T. Graham 6-18 4-4 17; D. Theus 2-2 2-2 6; B. Weber 1-4 0-1 2; R. Brandenberg 5-10 0-0 11; J. Reddic 1-6 2-2 4; M. Johnson 1-4 2-2 4; D. Haley 1-3 0-0 2; J. Guest 0-2 0-0 0; T. Okereafor 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 22-61 10-11 59.
Three-point goals: LEH 6-18 (H. Greiner 3-6; C. McCollum 0-2; M. McKnight 1-6; S. Cvrkalj 0-1; C. Schaefer 2-3), VCU 5-27 (T. Daniels 3-9; R. Brandenberg 1-5; B. Weber 0-2; T. Graham 1-10; M. Johnson 0-1); Rebounds: LEH 31 (H. Greiner 9), VCU 32 (J. Reddic 5); Assists: LEH 10 (H. Greiner 3), VCU 9 (D. Theus 2); Total Fouls -- LEH 13, VCU 17; Fouled Out: LEH-None; VCU-None.