Heading into Friday, only one Patriot League team — Bucknell — had ever won an NCAA tournament game. Couple that with a matchup against college basketball heavyweight Duke in its own backyard and the odds were stacked against 15th-seeded Lehigh in its fifth-ever tournament appearance.
But on a wild day of upsets, the Mountain Hawks provided the biggest shock of all, beating No. 2 Duke at its own game and showing poise down the stretch to hold on for a 75-70 win in Greensboro.
Patriot League player of the year C.J. McCollum outshone Duke’s array of McDonald’s All-Americans with a 30-point performance to help the Mountain Hawks become only the sixth No. 15 seed ever to win an opening round game — and the second in three hours.
“We saw on the selection show we had Duke and we thought we could match up very well against them,” Lehigh forward John Adams said. “We all believed it and we showed it on the floor. Everybody bought into that idea that we could beat them. The rest is history.”
The Mountain Hawks led for much of the first half and opened up a 61-54 lead with two minutes left. As they closed out the win, Lehigh even got an unexpected boost from the crowd despite playing 481 miles from home.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Mountain Hawks forward Justin Maneri said with a deep laugh. “We came to the practice the other day and as soon as you walked in they were going crazy for us and we’re like, ‘What’s going on?’ They were like, ‘Go Lehigh, beat Duke!’ They were screaming. It was nice to have fans here that weren’t Duke. I’ve never seen two schools that hate each other so much.”
Now the Mountain Hawks will look to make history again. If they can knock of No. 10 seed Xavier on Sunday, they would become the first Patriot League team to reach the Sweet 16.
Meantime the Blue Devils are left to ponder yet another early exit in March. With the exception of their 2010 title run, Duke has not advanced beyond the Sweet 16 since 2004. Friday’s loss was their second round-of-64 defeat in that span — they lost to VCU in 2007 as a No. 6 seed.
“I’ve been in it for 37 years and it takes you to incredible highs,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “And it also takes you to incredible lows. And tonight’s one of those lows. But it wasn’t just our doing, they played that well. They played that well. And again my hat’s off to them.”
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