Lost in the hullaballoo raised by Duke getting drubbed by 27 points and three other top 25 teams losing on Wednesday, one of the most important mid-major games of the season slid by, barely gaining notice.
Lehigh and Bucknell were the two favorites in the Patriot League heading into the season. They were also two of the best mid-major teams in the country, both expected to give whoever they ended up facing in the NCAA tournament a dogfight.
The other thing both teams had in common?
They’re led by a potential NBA Draft pick. CJ McCollum for Lehigh by Mike Muscala for Bucknell.
McCollum broke a bone in his foot earlier this month and will be out until, at the earliest, the Patriot League tournament, which led many to speculate that the Bison would have their way with the Mountainhawks in conference play.
Not so fast.
Lehigh went into Lewisburg last night and jumped all over Bucknell, taking a 27-12 lead midway through the first half and hanging on to win 65-62 when a three from Cameron Ayers fell short at the buzzer. What’s more impressive? Lehigh not only beat Bucknell on the road without McCollum, they did so on a night when both Mackey McKnight and Gabe Knutson struggled. Those two combined to go 8-27 from the field.
“I was really disappointed in the level of toughness of our team,” Bucknell coach Dave Paulsen told PennLive.com.
BJ Bailey led the way with 18 points for Lehigh, going 4-4 from three.
“Fortunately, we’ve been able to come forward with poise and resiliency,” said Lehigh coach Brett Reed. “This year’s team’s faced adversity. And they’ve shown tremendous togetherness.”
Lehigh is now sitting all alone at 4-0 in the conference, with Bucknell by themselves in second place at 2-2. The rematch will come Feb. 18th at Lehigh. Anyone else hoping neither team loses until then?
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.