By Kevin Sweeney
No one saw this one coming.
The Holy Cross Crusaders earned their fourth road win in the conference tournament with a 59-56 win over Lehigh to win the Patriot League Tournament and earn a trip to the Big Dance.
Entering the conference tournament with just 10 wins on the season and the 9th seed in the tournament, the Crusaders weren’t given much of a chance to come out of the tournament victorious. But in 8 days, the Crusaders went on the road 4 times and knocked off higher seeded opponents, including tonight’s thriller over Lehigh, who had won 11 straight prior to tonight.
Holy Cross was able to quickly quiet a raucous Lehigh crowd with a strong start. The Crusaders shut down the potent Lehigh offense with a 1-3-1 zone that seemingly confused the Mountain Hawks. The Crusaders held Lehigh to just 14 first half points and when all was said and done owned a 25-14 lead at halftime.
In the second half, Holy Cross repeatedly held off strong pushes from the Mountain Hawks. Senior forward Tim Kempton cashed in on 3 3-point plays in the second to keep cutting into the Lehigh deficit. However, the Crusaders knocked down big 3 after big 3 to hold onto the lead. It was junior Malachi Alexander who led the way, scoring 26 points on the game, including knocking down 6-7 from downtown. An Alexander 3 gave the Crusaders a 10 point lead with 4:26 to go. Lehigh refused to go away however, using an 11-2 run to cut their deficit to 1 with just 1:21 to go. Alexander just wouldn’t let the Crusaders lose, as he scored the team’s final 9 points.
Despite Alexander’s strong play, the Mountain Hawks had multiple chance in the closing seconds to send the game to overtime. Lehigh got off 4 3-points shots on their final possession that would have evened the score, but couldn’t capitalize, leaving Lehigh stunned and Lehigh euphoric.
Overall, it was hot 3-point shooting that allowed the Crusaders to pull the upset. They made 11-29 from downtown, well over their season average of just over 7 per game.
The Crusaders are likely headed to Dayton, Ohio to participate in the First Four of the NCAA Tournament. Should they win in that game, they will get the chance to become the first 16 seed to knock off a 1 seed. Lehigh likely isn’t done, as they should receive interest from postseason tournaments such as the CBI, CIT, or Vegas 16.