Crusaders carry the flag on otherwise dismal night

While Lehigh and Lafayette were busy becoming the first Patriot League teams to lose to an Ivy that didn't start with a "P", Holy Cross defended the league's honor with a 53-39 win over PL expats Fordham.

Fans have asked Holy Cross coach Ralph Willard why the Crusaders don’t press more. Willard says because he prefers to focus on tough half-court defense. Given Willard’s track record at HC, it’s hard to imagine anyone second-guessing his defensive strategy. Not that he needed to, but last night in the Bronx the Crusaders bolstered Willard’s argument, limited Fordham to 31 percent shooting from the field.

Dave Curtis of theNew York Post needs no convincing:
"The Rams wilted against Holy Cross' 2-3 matchup zone, which had placed in the top 10 in the NCAA in field goal percentage defense three of the last four seasons."
Fordham's 39 points were its lowest at home since 1997. The Rams had only 14 field goals all night. They turned it over 25 times.

Despite HC's defense, this was still a one-point game with 5:43 to play. Then the Crusaders went on an 11-0 walk to put it away. Hard to call it a run; Nine of the 11 points came at the foul line. The lone field goal in that stretch was a Nate Lufkin layup that resulted in a three-point play when he was fouled and knocked down the free throw.

Perhaps the only thing lamer than Fordham's offense is New York Times sports. Looking for coverage of the Holy Cross-Fordham game, we found women’s world cup skiing, the Lisbon Marathon,cross-country skiingand Italian soccer, but no Fordham hoops. No Columbia at Lehigh hoops, either. Maybe if they played in the South American nation of Colombia The Times would notice.

You have to think Willard and Bucknell coach Pat Flannery found Lehigh's 75-61 loss to Columbia (box score) encouraging.

Not because the Mountain Hawks lost. Any team with hopes of winning the Patriot wants the rest of the league to win when they play out of conference to boost the Patriot's RPI and help their chances of avoiding the dreaded 16 seed come March.

But HC and Bucknell are arguably two of the better half-court teams in the league, and as Billy Taylor told Corky Blake of the Easton Express-Times, against Columbia,:
"(Lehigh) struggled on the offensive end, executing plays and our halfcourt sets. We had trouble figuring out what a good shot was . . .
Corky pointed out that the loss ended not one, but two streaks for Lehigh:
Columbia's 75-61 victory over the Mountain Hawks halted their 16-game winning streak in Stabler Arena. The Lions also became the first Ivy League team to win at Stabler in six tries against a Billy Taylor-coached Lehigh club.
We told you last week that home win streak was not all that impressive. But we certainly didn't expect it to end at the hands of an Ivy League team.

Neither did Andre Williams of The Morning Call:
"Returning home figured to help Lehigh (3-4) cure its woes against the Ivy League Lions (4-1), who the Hawks had beaten the last two seasons. But the Hawks came out missing shots from all over and getting beat badly in transition to fall behind 14-0 just four minutes into the game."
From the sound of Williams' story, Lehigh is a team in disarray.
"Fatigued and perhaps frustrated, Lehigh made no more runs. Sophomore guard Jose Olivero (six points), a Patriot League all-rookie member last season, was 0-for-7 from the field; Jason Mgebroff (eight points), a 6-10 sophomore center, barely got off his feet and was slow defending; and Earl Nurse, a starting forward, took only one shot.

Then, there was Kyle Neptune, the Hawks' versatile 6-4 sophomore swingman, who relegated to the role of a cheerleader because Taylor benched him for personal reasons.

. . . The Hawks were just as abysmal on defense . . ."
A week ago Lehigh looked like a team poised to challenge for the league crown. Now they look like a team happy to be headed to a nine-day break for finals.

Lafayette's 75-72 loss at Cornell (box score) didn't help the league's RPI any either. But it certainly was not the embarrasment that Lehigh's home loss was. The young Leopards came within a Bilal Abdullah three-pointer of sending the game to overtime.

From the Ithaca Journal:
"Cornell turned the ball over just six times, only once in the first half, and shot 47 percent from the field. The good shooting night almost went to waste as Lafayette (1-5) rallied from a 14-point deficit to make the game close."
The Patriot League is now 3-6 against the Ivies (we incorrectly said yesterday they were 4-4 heading into last night's game). We understand losses to Princeton and Penn. But to Columbia? At home? Lafayette at least has the "no scholarships' excuse.

Elsewhere in the Patriot League:

Belmont 91, Navy 66 -- (box score) Belmont used an 11-0 run to pull away in the second half. The Bruinsshot 57.6 percent for the game and made 12-of-21 3-pointers.

Albany 73, Army 46 -- (boxscore) As Mark Singelais of the Albany Times-Union pointed out, with Albany on a two-game losing streak:
"It was a good time to have Army on the schedule"
Singelais said Army "looked bad even by the low standards at Army, which hasn't had a winning season since the 1984-85 campaign."

Cheer up Lehigh fans, the Cadets come to town in 51 days.

On tap tonight: Robert Morris at Bucknell

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