"The best way to pay for a lovely moment is to enjoy it." - Richard Bach
Game #9-427: Lehigh Mountain Hawks at Lafayette LeopardsFebruary 24, 2013 12:00 pm
Kirby Sports Center
EASTON, Pa. - I didn't learn much Calculus from my high school teacher, but he did say something that has stuck with me in the two decades since: "No matter how good you think you are at something, there's always someone somewhere better. And the same thing in reverse as well."
I've been to a lot of gyms in the last few months, but my travels pale horribly to what the Marquis de Lafayette pulled off in 1824-1825. An unsung hero of the Revolutionary War (at least today), Lafayette - who narrowly escaped the guillotine, but did serve five years in prison after war back in France in their revolutionary period - was one of the last living heroes of the Revolutionary period in the 1820s. So President James Monroe extended an invitation to Lafayette - by then a sexagenarian - to tour the United States.
And tour he did. For 15 months, Lafayette (with his son Georges Washington de Lafayette, a Harvard grad, spent time in all 24 states. He stayed so long that Monroe wasn't even in office by the time he left Washington, D.C. in 1825 (John Quincy Adams was).
One place he never visited in all that time: Easton, Pennsylvania. And yet a year after he was gone, perhaps the most lasting (except perhaps Fayetteville, N.C.) visage of the Marquis today - Lafayette College - was formed there.
Funny how life works sometimes.
We know by now that a picture can be worth much more than a thousand words, but I'll try to limit myself here.
The snapshot: Lafayette senior point guard Tony Johnson looking toward his bench with his shoulders shrugged and a wry smile on his face, his tongue ever so slightly sticking out of his mouth.
Maybe you've heard of Tony Johnson, and if you had and you're not a Patriot League followed, give yourself a gold star. But Johnson is one of those players that just fly below the radar, even here at the Mid-majority, good enough to start and occasionally star, but he and his team never truly make it onto the national scene and eventually fade away after their four years of eligibility expire.
Time was ticking on Johnson Sunday, as he and his Leopards were playing as well as they ever had with Johnson running the show. He had been named second team All-Patriot League last season, despite playing only 12 games (all of them league games) due to injury. Cruelly, he was shut down again just before the Patriot League tournament, and Lafayette was blasted by Bucknell in the semifinals.
But this season, Johnson (who hasn't won the Patriot League since 2000) - after a somewhat rocky non-conference slate, helped the Leopards to a 7-4 record in the league, including a road blowout of rival Lehigh. Another win over their C.J. McCollum-less neighbors would push them into second and give them the tiebreaker with only two winnable games (Colgate, American) remaining.
However, it was Lehigh and their point guard - Mackey McKnight (who did not start because of a violation of team rules) - who appeared like they were going to reclaim their swagger after losing two straight. McKnight's superhoop gave the Mountain Hawks a 39-33 lead at the half, and it was extended to double digits midway through the second half when Holden Greiner and Gabe Knutson made their presence known.
Ah, it was a good run for Lafayette, no shame.
But a sold out Kirby Center (due to be remodeled in the summer), and a decent percentage of the 2,200 undergrads at Lafayette continued to push their team forward and they responded. Little used Wes Smith gave them a spark on the defensive end and his layup cut the lead to five. Johnson drove and scored to make it 59-58, and Bryce Scott's superhoop gave Lafayette the lead just three minutes after they were down 10.
Two minutes later, Johnson - usually not a huge offensive threat - gave the Leopards the lead with his fourth superhoop and on the next possession, when the ball was kicked out to him after an offensive rebound, Johnson calmly connected on his career-high fifth superhoop (in five attempts), Lafayette had a 70-64 lead with 3:30 left, the Kirby Center was as loud as its ever been, and Johnson looked toward the bench and smiled.
It was his day.
Lehigh would get no closer as Lafayette completed the sweep and stunningly - at least how the season started - may finish ahead of their rivals in the Patriot League standings with the sweep.
The Mountain Hawks and Dr. Brett Reed now have plenty of questions as they spiral toward what could be a tough end to the careers of Greiner, Knutson, and McCollum after last year's NCAA Tournament run. McCollum was still on crutches and with only 17 days to the Patriot League final, his chances of being remotely effective in that game don't look good.
If they get that far, of course. They may face a semifinal back at the Kirby Sports Center before they can even get there.
Johnson's line in his final (at least regular season) game against Lehigh: 29 points (matching his career high) on 10-of-12 shooting before a sell-out crowd of 3,433 in his home gym. The game being broadcast on CBS Sports, he had to do the requisite postgame interview and was on his way to the locker room, where he caught his mom out of the corner of his eye. He ran into the stands, received the same hug he probably got on the AAU circuit when he was 12, and sprinted into the locker room cheered on by the students and fans that remained.
It's still a longshot for Lafayette to win at Bucknell and make the NCAA Tournament, but even if they don't, Johnson will always have that Sunday afternoon against Lehigh. And that's more than a lot of people in Our Game can say.
at LAFAYETTE 79, LEHIGH 71
LEHIGH 18-8 (8-4) -- M. McKnight 5-9 0-0 11; H. Greiner 10-14 5-5 27; G. Knutson 8-14 3-6 19; C. Schaefer 1-4 0-0 2; B. Bailey 2-4 1-1 6; S. Cvrkalj 0-2 0-0 0; A. D'Orazio 1-5 0-0 2; J. Goldsborough 2-3 0-0 4; C. Baltimore 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 29-55 9-12 71.
LAFAYETTE 15-14 (8-4) -- T. Johnson 10-12 4-4 29; L. Giese 3-5 2-2 10; B. Scott 3-8 0-1 9; S. Hinrichs 3-10 1-2 8; D. Trist 6-10 2-4 14; J. Ptasinski 1-6 1-2 3; A. Flannigan 1-2 0-0 2; L. Smith 1-1 2-2 4; Z. Rufer 0-0 0-0 0; N. Musters 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 28-54 12-17 79.
Three-point goals: LEH 4-15 (B. Bailey 1-2; H. Greiner 2-3; A. D'orazio 0-3; M. McKnight 1-5; S. Cvrkalj 0-1; C. Schaefer 0-1), LAF 11-25 (T. Johnson 5-5; L. Giese 2-4; J. Ptasinski 0-4; S. Hinrichs 1-5; B. Scott 3-7); Rebounds: LEH 24 (G. Knutson 8), LAF 27 (L. Giese 8); Assists: LEH 12 (M. McKnight 4), LAF 13 (B. Scott 5); Total Fouls -- LEH 15, LAF 11; Fouled Out: LEH-None; LAF-None.
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