The game remains fresh in the minds of the Bison faithful: tied at 53, the Bison’s undefeated league record on the line, and Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum in possession with 14 seconds left on the clock. He dribbles, seconds lasting an eternity, with the stout defense of Cameron Ayers ’14 in his way. As the clock moves closer to zero, McCollum, as all great players do, makes a slight crossover move to gain separation and drains the game-winning three. Silence fell over the Sojka Psychos as the Mountain Hawks handed the Bison their first league loss of the season, 56-53, avenging their 68-61 loss to the Bison earlier.
“Obviously it was a tough loss the last time we played Lehigh. Of course we would like to win this rematch, but every time we go out we are doing our best to win,” Bryson Johnson ’13 said.
Though nothing may motivate a team more than revenge, the Orange and Blue could not erase the memories of the bitter loss at the Patriot League Championship on Wednesday night, falling to the Mountain Hawks in heartbreaking fashion 82-77.
In recent years, the rivalry between the schools has grown greatly with the tremendous success of both programs. Over the past three seasons, Lehigh has earned two Patriot League titles (2012 and 2010), while the Bison earned the other last season. On top of this, the two programs currently showcase the league’s two best players in Mike Muscala ’13 and the Mountain Hawks’ C.J. McCollum, who have combined for three Patriot League Player of the Year awards in as many years.
“They won the League my freshman year, and we won it this past year, so it’s definitely something that’s turned into a rivalry,” Muscala said. “I don’t really think it was a rivalry before I came here, but it’s been fun and we always look forward to playing them.”
Aside from their individual studs, both teams also have tremendous supporting casts. For the Bison, Joe Willman ’13 has emerged this year as a dynamic front-court scorer to complement Muscala and developed one of the most reliable mid-range jumpers in the league. Bryan Cohen ’12, the three-time Patriot League defensive player of the year, is the defensive stopper who also has a reliable offensive game and a knack for providing timely baskets. Johnson provides instant offense on the bench and has been one of the most dynamic three-point threats for any team.
Then, as in any rivalry, a tremendous individual rivalry exists to make it all the more interesting. In this case, a running bout has evolved between McCollum and Cohen. McCollum has had to fight and earn every point against arguably the greatest on-ball defender in League history. While McCollum did hit the game-winner in the last game, Cohen has held McCollum in check throughout their head-to-head matchups, holding him to only 13.5 points per game, well below his season average of 21.7.
However, in this year’s Championship contest, McCollum got the best of the Bison, recording 29 points to lead the Mountain Hawks to their second NCAA tournament berth in three years. Unlikely to earn better than a 15-seed, it will certainly be interesting to see how McCollum and the Mountain Hawks fare against one of the elite teams in the country.