By Greg Stevenson
After rolling off
10 consecutive victories in conference since early January, the men’s basketball team finally experienced defeat, losing back-to-back heartbreakers by one possession to the Lehigh Mountain Hawks and Holy Cross Crusaders. The two setbacks leave the Orange and Blue leading by just one game in the conference with two contests remaining.
“It was a frustrating way to lose,”
said Mike Muscala ’13 , the only Bison to score in double-figures in both games. “It will make us hungrier in the Patriot League Tournament.” The Orange and Blue came out strong early in their match against Lehigh last Thursday, pushing ahead for a seven-point advantage just six minutes into the game. Unlike the rest of their Patriot League games up to that point, the Bison could not bury the Mountain Hawks after jumping out to a quick lead.
The nation’s seventh leading scorer, C.J. McCollum, who had been held to just four points in the first half by stingy defense played by Bryan Cohen ’12 and Cameron Ayers ’14, came alive in the second period, dropping 11 points to give Lehigh the boost it needed.
“I think we did a good job as a team defensively against him,”
Cohen said. “The game plan was to try to keep the ball out of his hands as much as possible and make his teammates beat us. Overall, we did a solid job defensively as we were able to limit his shots.”
With the score tied in the waning seconds and the ball in his hands, though, McCollum would not be denied. After a difficult offensive series for the Bison on the previous possession, the Lehigh star drained a three-pointer with a half-second remaining to break the tie and give the Mountain Hawks a dramatic 56-53 victory.
Less than 48 hours after the emotionally draining loss against Lehigh, the Orange and Blue had to travel over six hours to play at Holy Cross on Saturday afternoon.
Their physical and mental exhaustion were evident throughout the first half
. Muscala registered the first basket of the game for either side, but it was the Crusaders who would break the game wide open early with a 17-0 run. All efforts for the Bison offense proved futile in the opening 20 minutes, as the team missed 14 consecutive shots and did not score for a span of more than eight minutes.
“Holy Cross jumped on us early,”
Cohen said. “Once that happened, they got into a good rhythm offensively, which allowed them to knock down several tough shots. We also were not able to keep them off the offensive glass as they were able to get a lot of second chance points.”
The Orange and Blue sprung to life, though, in the second half. After the Bison trailed
by as much as 19, an impassioned comeback brought them within two of tying the game. But time ran out on the Orange and Blue, who fell 54-52 for their second straight Patriot League defeat for the first time in over two seasons.
“What changed was our defensive intensity and focus,”
Ayers said. “We didn’t let our offense dictate our defense and we outscored them by 16 in the second half. If we didn’t start out sluggish, we would have had the game easily.” The regular season title and number one spot in the Patriot League Tournament are still in the Orange and Blue’s grasp. A victory over American on Thursday night (after this paper went to press) would clinch both for the Bison.
“We came out hungry against Lehigh and Holy Cross but fell short,”
Muscala said. “I think there are things we can take from both losses that we need to use in our games moving forward.”