Posted: March 12, 2010
BETHLEHEM, Pa. – Senior Zahir Carrington scored 18 points, grabbed ten rebounds and blocked four shots en route to leading Lehigh to its first Patriot League championship since 2004 with a 74-59 victory over archrival Lafayette on Friday evening inside Stabler Arena in front of 4,259 fans. The Mountain Hawks harassed the Leopards into a 3-of-23 showing from three-point range and shot 49% themselves as they win their school record 22nd game this season and advance to the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in school history. Carrington earned Tournament MVP honors, while classmate Marquis Hall and freshman C.J. McCollum were named to the All-Tournament Team. Lafayette sees its season come to a close with an overall mark of 19-13.
“This is something we’ve been working towards over the last four years,” Carrington said afterwards. “We didn’t achieve the type of success we had wanted our first three years, so we set out to change that this season. It really all started last year when our women’s team won the Patriot League championship. Watching them win the title and sharing in the celebration gave us a boost and lit a fire underneath us.”
He continued, “We really wanted to win this game and weren’t going to let anything stop us. We decided before the season what our goals were and I couldn’t be any happier that we achieved them.”
McCollum scored a game-high 20 points, including 16 in the first half, while senior Dave Buchberger sank three three-pointers en route to 13 points and junior Michael Ojo came off the bench to score 11 points in 24 minutes. Carrington’s ten boards were tied with Lafayette’s Ryan Willen for game-high honors, while McCollum pulled down seven boards. Hall dished out seven assists, pulled down five boards and recorded one steal and as a team Lehigh sank seven three-pointers and out-rebounded the Leopards 40-33.
“I could not be any happier for this group we have, particularly our seniors,” Lehigh head coach Brett Reed said afterwards. “This is a special group of individuals who set out to achieve something way back before this season even began and today they were rewarded for their efforts. I cannot say enough about the tremendous effort given by Zahir Carrington, particularly in that second half. He carried us for a stretch, but he didn’t do it alone. C.J. McCollum was terrific and set the tone early with his scoring, Dave Buchberger stepped up and made shots, Michael Ojo had terrific energy off the bench, Marquis Hall got the ball to people in the right spots. It was a tremendous all-around team effort.”
Willen scored 16 points for Lafayette and was named to the All-Tournament Team, while Jeff Kari added ten. The Leopards shot only 36% for the game and were out-scored 11-4 on second chance points. Darion Benbow pulled down seven rebounds and Ben Wheeler handed out a team-high four helpers.
McCollum hit his first shot of the game just 34 seconds in to give Lehigh an early 3-0 lead and Buchberger followed with another three to put the Mountain Hawks ahead by six. Mower scored Lafayette’s first points with 18:37 to play in the half, but another McCollum three minutes later gave the Brown and White a 9-4 advantage. Buchberger’s lay-up with 17:07 to play put Lehigh ahead by seven, but Ben Wheeler’s three a minute later brought the Leopards within four at 11-7.
McCollum was fouled on a three-point attempt with 12:39 to go and calmly sank all three foul shots to put Lehigh in front 18-11 but Lafayette quickly cut the Mountain Hawks’ lead to just one capped by a Mintz bucket with 9:01 remaining. Following a Lehigh timeout Carrington got the Mountain Hawks faithful even more into the game with a two-hand slam off a feed from Ojo, while Ojo’s three with 4:55 to play put the Brown and White up 26-19.
Following a missed shot Carrington soared in for the rebound and in one motion threw down a put-back dunk as Lehigh opened up an eight-point lead with 3:25 left before halftime. Two Holden Greiner free throws again gave Lehigh an eight-point cushion, this time with 2:38 on the clock. Lehigh maintained its eight-point lead until freshman Tony Johnson hit a gorgeous fall-back jumper just before the first half horn, sending the teams into the locker room with the Mountain Hawks in front 35-29.
McCollum scored 16 first half points on five-of-ten shooting, including two three-pointers. Carrington added six points and three boards, while Knutson and Hall ripped down four boards apiece. The Mountain Hawks turned the ball over an uncharacteristic nine times in the half, but did out score their rivals 14-8 in the paint and held a 9-2 advantage in second chance points aided by a 23-18 lead in rebounding.
Lafayette struggled on the offensive end in the first 20 minutes, shooting only 34% overall, including a 1-of-13 showing from three-point range (7.7%). Wheeler scored a team-high five points in the half, while five other Leopards scored four points. Wheeler also led the Leopards in assists with two and Willen was the leading rebounder with five boards. Lehigh forced its opponent into six turnovers in the half and led for the entire 20 minutes.
A jumper by McCollum right out of the gate gave Lehigh a 37-29 lead, while Carrington’s dunk at the 16:14 mark extended the Mountain Hawks lead to nine. Willen’s three with 14:06 to play pulled the Leopards within four, while Kari’s lay-up 30 seconds later made it a two-point affair, bringing Lafayette’s fans to their feet. Lehigh never got fazed though and scored the next seven capped by Buchberger’s three with 12:14 to play that put the Brown and White up by nine.
Lafayette then went on a run of its own, scoring eight straight capped by Mower’s three at the 10:43 mark, which made the score 51-50 in favor of the Mountain Hawks and set up a terrific final few minutes of play. Buchberger hit another three with 10:04 to go and Lehigh went on top by four before Kari cut it to a two-point game with a lay-up. Ojo’s lay-up with 6:55 remaining put Lehigh in front by six, while Carrington’s lay-up on Lehigh’s next possession made it an eight-point affair with six to play.
Carrington then took over and put Lehigh on his back and carried the Mountain Hawks to the title. First he stole the ball and finished the play with a slam. Next he threw down a one-hand slam and was fouled by Lafayette’s Jared Mintz to put Lehigh up ten with just over two minutes to go and the Mountain Hawks never looked back from there. Ojo sank four foul shots in the final two minutes and Carrington added yet another slam to cap Lehigh’s second P.L. title in school annals and its fourth trip to the NCAA Tournament (1985, 1988, 2004).
The win was Lehigh’s 15th at Stabler Arena this season, which adds to the Mountain Hawks school record for victories inside the building.
Mountain Hawks Basketball Post-Game Extra
Lehigh will now wait to learn its NCAA Tournament fate on Sunday evening. The Mountain Hawks will gather as a team to watch the NCAA Tournament selection show, which begins at 6:00 on Sunday and is shown live nationwide on CBS.
Photography, 2010 (c) Specialty Photographic