February 26, 2013
In the ten games following the broken foot suffered by leading scorer and All-America candidate C.J. McCollum, Lehigh lost just once with their many capable shooters picking up the slack offensively.
But the Mountain Hawks have lost three straight games, most recently falling at rival Lafayette 79-71 on Sunday afternoon to drop into a tie for second in the Patriot League with the Leopards. And Lafayette, who won both meetings this season, now has the head-to-head tiebreaker with the higher seed getting home court advantage in each game of the Patriot League tournament.
Tony Johnson was outstanding for Lafayette, scoring a game-high 29 points, but Lehigh's three-point shooting was the bigger culprit in Easton.
Entering Sunday's action Lehigh shot 40.1% from three-point range, a figure that led the conference by nearly four percentage points. Over the last three games the Mountain Hawks haven't approached that mark, shooting a frigid 8-of-48 (16.7%) from distance.
On Sunday the Mountain Hawks shot 4-of-15 against Lafayette, who hit 11 of their 24 attempts, a mark which is actually an improvement on Lehigh's 1-of-15 night in a home loss to Bucknell on Wednesday. On the season the Mountain Hawks score 32.5% of their points by way of the three-pointer (per statsheet.com), so it's clear that they need the shot to fall in order to be successful.
The question some may ask is whether or not a possible McCollum return for the conference tournament would get them back on track, but given Lehigh's success without their star that's not the route to take.
Forwards Holden Greiner (27 points, 10-of-14 FG) and Gabe Knutson (19 points, eight rebounds) were productive against Lafayette, with Greiner averaging 17.0 points per game in the losses to Colgate and Bucknell. What Lehigh needs is better shooting from their perimeter weapons, and that would be the case regardless of McCollum's status.
There's no doubt that a healthy McCollum would improve Lehigh's chances in the Patriot League tournament if he were able to return. But regardless of McCollum's status Lehigh needs to regain its shooting form in order to return to the NCAA tournament.
Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.