GAME NOTES: The sixth annual College Basketball Invitational gets off the ground on Tuesday, with first-round action featuring the Lehigh Mountain Hawks going up against the Wyoming Cowboys at Arena Auditorium in Laramie.
In the postseason for the third time in the last four years, the Mountain Hawks are representing the Patriot League against which they produced a record of 10-4 this season. Overall Lehigh, which needs one more victory to reach 1,000 in program history, was 21-9 in 2012-13 even as it played most of the campaign without All-American C.J. McCollum, who was lost after 12 games due to an injury.
Last year, the Mountain Hawks raised their visibility on a national scale as they slipped by prohibitive favorite Duke, 75-70, in the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the team's first-ever victory in that event.
As for the Cowboys, they were one of the last of the unbeaten teams in the country this year as they opened the campaign on a 13-game win streak. The team finally bowed on Jan. 9 in a last-second decision versus Boise State in the Mountain West Conference opener, and from there it all went down hill. Like Lehigh, the Pokes also missed one of their top players in the new calendar year after leading scorer Luke Martinez was injured and subsequently suspended.
Wyoming did win one game in the MWC Tournament, an 85-81 final over Nevada, but was then dropped by the eventual winner, New Mexico, less than a week ago.
The winner of this first-ever meeting will be back in action on Monday in the quarterfinals versus the survivor of the North Dakota State/Western Michigan matchup.
While it may be true that the Mountain Hawks came up short of their high expectations this season, it should be noted that the team didn't completely collapse following the loss of McCollum, one of the top scorers in college basketball the last several years. Instead, Lehigh was led this time around by Holden Greiner who was named First Team All-Patriot, while Mackey McKnight was selected for the Second Team. Greiner, the only one to start every game for the Mountain Hawks, produced 13.4 ppg and was first on the glass with 6.7 rpg, not to mention the top 3-point shooter with 43 conversions. McKnight accounted for 12.1 ppg and was first on the unit with 148 assists, against 90 turnovers, as he helped guide the squad to 73.3 ppg. Not to be forgotten is a former All- Patriot performer in Gabe Knutson (13.6 ppg, 4.4 rpg), who can easily put his stamp on a game when given the chance.
Still listed as the team's leading scorer on the season with his 14.5 ppg, the loss of Martinez continues to haunt the Cowboys every time they take the floor. At this point the active leading scorer for the program is Leonard Washington with just over 12 ppg, but he too missed some action due to injury. Still, Washington is one of the most reliable performers for Wyoming as he also leads the team with 8.5 rpg, 53 blocked shots and 42 steals. However, for someone who is clearly an inside presence, Washington has found a need to test his perimeter shooting touch and it has not been pretty (13-of-81). Better suited to attack from the outside for the Pokes is Derrious Gilmore (12.0 ppg), who has made good on 72 of his 200 attempts from beyond the arc. Getting more and more comfortable in the paint is Larry Nance Jr. (10.1 ppg), who has pulled down almost seven rebounds per game.
One of the top defensive teams in the country, the Cowboys are lucky that they won't be seeing McCollum because he could destroy all that Wyoming has built by himself. As it stands now, Lehigh still has the talent to take the Cowboys to the limit, but you have to wonder how the long trip to Laramie will affect the visitors.
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