Chapter 3

Beating Bucknell

Haas: The team had to go to Bucknell for the Patriot League [Championship Game], which is a tough place to play, but it's a place where Lehigh had been successful over the years. So even though Bucknell was very good at home, Lehigh had been very good at Bucknell. It set up to be a heavyweight matchup at Bucknell, and the game lived up to the billing.

Reed: We had to really be in the moment, because anything that would distract us would probably lead to us being less than our best.

So I think our players were actually really confident going into that game. Because the one thing we always had throughout the course of the year, even though we made a team commitment, we had toughness, we had all that, we had a pretty special player who could rise to the occasion. When you know that, that's so reassuring, and it helps build so much confidence.

Lehigh University basketball players

BEATING BUCKNELL: Lehigh clinched the Patriot League Championship in a hard-fought game on the road against Bucknell, winning 82-77. "Everyone talks about the Duke game," says Lehigh's Gabe Knutson, "but my favorite game that season was actually the win over Bucknell."

Tyler Piede '12, "Clutch," Lehigh's mascot: The "big bad wolf" was always Bucknell. Whenever they played Bucknell, it was an intense atmosphere. Two giants doing battle. During the Patriot League final, I was nervous as all get out. … I knew that, if we don't win this game, we'd never make it to the dance.

Maneri: We hated them! … It was a tough place to play, but I also felt like we thrived in settings like Bucknell's—their fans were in there 40 minutes before tip, yelling stuff at us, but we really thrived on that.

Haas: Lehigh had the lead for most of the game. Bucknell made it very tight down the stretch, but Lehigh made the plays in a hostile environment to pull out the championship. Just winning the Patriot League in itself was a huge accomplishment for this team. It was a great moment in itself.

Knutson: Everyone talks about the Duke game, but my favorite game that season was actually the win over Bucknell. We had such a rivalry with them back then. To go into their place—I hate to say it, but they have amazing fans, really amazing fans—that was a tough place to play, and getting that win, the excitement of that, really helped us.

We knew we were playing good basketball.

It was a crazy game. I don't think we ever lost the lead but it was close. It was really back and forth—a tough, competitive game. Late on they hit two threes and tied it up, and we had to come down and get a bucket. Then they had the ball with a chance to win it, and I got switched on the guard. That was an intense moment. We almost lost the game, having been up the whole time. But they were tough. That was always a big rivalry for us, and the confidence we got out of that win was tremendous.

Reed: It was a really hard-fought game, and to see the look on our guys' faces, to be able to accomplish their goal, even doing it in a hostile environment, and the reflection on the commitment that they made, the togetherness they made. They sacrificed personally for that goal, whether it's their own performance, or their pride, or whatever it might be, or their overall commitment. For C.J. to be able to accomplish that goal and have that sense of satisfaction that he had made the right choices to sacrifice for the greater team good, that decision was validated, was really something that was special.

Because there's so much time before the NCAA Tournament, it was more of [a time] to enjoy the moment, a validation of everything that we did, an opportunity to just soak it all in, and have a deep sense of appreciation that you brought young men in on a journey together to accomplish something they said they wanted to do but they didn't really understand what it would take to get it done.

Haas: It was a great moment for the whole athletics department, for our alumni, for our team. I think the team and all the fans who were at Bucknell clearly enjoyed the moment. There's a few days of downtime before you can do too much planning prior to the Selection Show. It was a fun few days of celebrating a Patriot League championship.