Chapter 6

The Game

Duke's Mason Plumlee dunking

GAME ON: Duke made some high-end athletic plays early in the game. "But we weren’t rattled by it,"" says Lehigh’s Gabe Knutson. "We were confident."

Reed: It might have been the very first of two plays or the first two plays, we got so excited, we didn't do what we were supposed to do. And one time, [Duke's] Mason Plumlee caught the ball on the perimeter, did a little pass fake. John Adams jumps in the air as if he's going to block a pass, even though that wasn't what we had worked on, and [Plumlee] just dribbles down the lane and dunks it—about as hard as you can dunk a basketball. They might have even gotten another dunk on their first couple possessions. And I'm like, "Oh no, we're in trouble."

Duke's Mason Plumlee dunking

GAME ON: Duke made some high-end athletic plays early in the game. "But we weren’t rattled by it,"" says Lehigh’s Gabe Knutson. "We were confident."

Knutson: We always joke about that play. He pump-faked from three, drove down the lane, three dribbles and then just hammered it—I mean, hammered it. He actually had three dunks to start the game. But we weren't rattled by it. We were confident. And I think a lot of that came from C.J. and his leadership.

Reed: Here's little old Lehigh, and Duke immediately makes some really high-end athletic plays—partially because we didn't execute, partially because they're very good and they could take advantage of whatever it might be, and it left me just kind of rubbing my head, saying, "Man, this is going to be a long night." But fortunately, our guys got grounded again.

Lehigh Police Chief Ed Shupp: I don't think a lot of people gave us much chance of winning [but] after about 10 minutes of the game, I actually thought we were much more competitive than I expected us to be, and I felt we had a good shot at continuing the momentum that we had through the rest of the first half and into the second half.

Haas: Early in the game, C.J. had a crossover on the right side of the court where he went to a kind of double crossover and shot a fade away along the baseline. And that was just a "wow" moment I think for a lot of people. Even the announcers were pretty animated over that move.

Reed: C.J. was pretty much being C.J. He didn't change his approach for the moment, he didn't try to do anything differently. As a basketball program, and even as our offensive system, we put him in a lot of positions to make decisions and have the ball in his hands, because he's that talented of a player.

Goldich: The Lehigh crowd stood for the majority of the game, chanting "De-fense" and clapping until our hands bled every time Duke had the ball. The Blue Devils fans cheered, but only reached that level of fury for dunks and lead changes in their favor. They could have controlled the atmosphere, but strangely, they didn't. While one set of fans was intense and determined, dreaming of the impossible, the other expected to sleepwalk through to the Sweet 16.*

Reed: We would build a bit of a lead or make a run, and then Duke would always have an answer. Duke would make a run, and we knew that they were really good and those runs were going to come. Basketball's such a game of momentum. It's hard to think that you're just going to totally slow down your opponent for a full 40 minutes.

C.J. McCollum double crossover

STAR GUARD: C.J. McCollum delivered a signature performance: 30 points, six rebounds, six assists. He is now a star shooting guard for the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers.

Kerr: It's a two-point game at the half, so this is going well. We're not getting blown out. We're hanging with them.

Maneri: I think, come halftime, they started catching on that this kid [C.J.] was for real, and also that with us as a team it wasn't just "the C.J. show." There wasn't any point where we were thinking, "Oh, we're not going to win this game." It was neck-and-neck the entire time. At halftime we were heading to the locker room, and I remember we heard Coach K going crazy through the walls, yelling at his team. They were clearly in shock. We knew we had something there. They were afraid.

Piede: The second half of basketball that Lehigh played [was] a truly inspired effort. I remember watching it from the floor and just being blown away, knowing they were always capable of it but to actually see the execution of it, was completely surreal and always gives me goosebumps.

Scalese: There were very strict NCAA rules. We had to sit, crisscrossed, on the floor. But any time Lehigh scored, we jumped up right away. It was a very fast-paced game. So we were up, down, up, down, and it went so fast. We're ahead, then Duke gets ahead, then we get ahead. So it's back and forth, cat and mouse.

Reed: There was one unique timeout that I remember. We had kind of fought back a couple runs already, and then Duke had made a pretty strong charge and made some tough plays. And offensively, I think we had sputtered just a little bit and maybe we had some opportunities we didn't convert on. I'm thinking in my head, "What do I go back and say to this team in this timeout right now?" because this is one of the most critical parts of the game. If we fall apart, if we back down, they're going to extend the lead because that's usually what happens.

When I came back to that huddle, our players were echoing a lot of the same message that we had talked about in practice from Day One, through the first month, through the first series of games, and they were almost convincing each other. "Guys, we can do this. Everyone, we need all of us together. We've got to follow the game plan. Let's work together to get the best shot." Those were the things I was hearing in that time out, and where I thought I had to be the catalyst to change the momentum, they took control. That was a pretty special moment.

Gabe Knutson dunks the ball

THE DUNK: In the final minutes of the game, Lehigh’s Gabe Knutson made a thunderous dunk that signaled to Lehigh fans that the Mountain Hawks were, indeed, about to pull one of the biggest upsets in NCAA Tournament history.

Knutson jam

Goldich: The atmosphere in the Lehigh section during those final 20 minutes was among the most intoxicating I've ever experienced—comparable to the World Series and the NFL playoffs.*

Kerr: At one point, we have an eight-point lead, and now I'm thinking, "This is going to happen." It's late, somewhere in the last four minutes because you keep waiting for Duke to remember they're Duke. I was running down the clock every time we would score. And now the lead is five, and I would say, "The lead is five and there are 2 minutes and 30 seconds left in this NCAA Tournament game." I think they got it as close as three after it had gotten to eight, but we were getting rebounds, we were making our shots, and they weren't. They kept taking threes. "Thank you very much!" They kind of played right into Lehigh's hands.

Piede: The one moment I'll always remember, in the last couple of minutes, Gabe Knutson had a dunk. ... It was on an inbound pass, they just threw it up to him, and there was no Duke player even around him, and he just, in a thunderous fashion, slammed the ball down through the hoop. I was just shaken. At this point, you knew we were going to win the game, and it would just be one of the all-time upsets in tournament history.

Haas: That was the moment where we knew, "Wow, we're going to do this. We're going to win an NCAA Tournament game." And that was pretty exciting.

Scalese: Those final couple minutes, we were so tense. And it was, "We can do this. We can actually do this." It was so close and surreal, and you're just watching the clock.