Patriot League Basketball Tournament 2012: Holy Cross Bumped, Lehigh and Bucknell To Play For Title

(5) Lafayette edged Holy Cross 84-76 in the quarterfinals of the Patriot League Tournament.

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Partiot League Semifinals: Bucknell And Lehigh Advance To Wednesday's Final

Lehigh and Bucknell crushed the competition Saturday in the Patriot League semifinals to earn their spots in the Tournament Final on Wednesday at 7 p.m. EDT. Defending champions Bucknell will look to become the seventh straight number one seed to earn the automatic bid that comes with a Patriot League Tournament Championship, while Lehigh will look to earn their second championship in three years.

(2) Lehigh 85, (3) American 66

Patriot League Player of the Year C.J. McCollum led the host Mountain Hawks to an easy win with 27 points and 10 rebounds and six assists. The junior guard knocked down 10-of-16 shots and added two of the team's 10 3-pointers, as Lehigh (25-7, 11-3) never let the Eagles (20-11, 10-4) get into their game.

Sophomore guard Mackley McKnight poured in 14 points, seven assists and five rebounds for Lehigh, while junior forward Holden Greiner chipped in 14 points of his own in just 13 minutes off the bench. American seniors Charles Hinkle and Troy Brewer led the Eagles with 15 points apiece and two other starters finished in double-figures but it wasn't enough for American who shot just 36.5 percent (23-of-63).

Lehigh used a 13-2 run midway through the second half to jump out to a 55-36 lead and never looked back en route to just their second Patriot League Tournament Championship Game.

(1) Bucknell 79, (5) Lafayette 52

Behind 36 points and 11 rebounds from starting forwards from Joe Willman and Mike Muscala, the top-seeded Bison rolled all over the Leopards Saturday afternoon. Muscala, the 2011 Patriot League Player of the Year, knocked down 7-of-12 shots, while his junior partner connected on 5-of-11 shots to go along with his team-high seven rebounds.

Bucknell went on a 23-7 run over the final 10:07 of the first half to open up a 40-20 lead and never trailed as the Bison returned to the Patriot League Championship Game for the second consecutive season and ninth time overall.

The Bison shot 46 percent (27-of-57) from the field but more impressively hit all 19 of their free throws, including a perfect 8-of-8 afternoon from Willman. Senior forward Ryan Willen led the Leopards with 11 points and five rebounds in his final collegiate game.

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Patriot League Quarterfinals: Holy Cross Bounced, Top Three Seeds Advance

Holy Cross came into the Patriot League Tournament with all the momentum but a hot shooting night from Lafayette guard Rob Delaney and an ice cold streak down the stretch were too much for the Crusaders to overcome. In other quarterfinal action, the top seeds all easily won, as Bucknell, Lehigh and American advanced to the semifinal stage, joining Lafayette in the second round for a repeat of last year's second round.

(5) Lafayette 84, (4) Holy Cross 76

The Leopards led from start to finish with Holy Cross unable to slow them down for any substantial stretches. Delaney (25 points, three rebounds and four assists) helped Lafayette (13-17) shoot 58.5 percent (24-of-41) from the field and 68.4 percent (13-of-19) from beyond the arc. The junior guard knocked down all five of his 3-point attempts, 8-of-9 field goal attempts overall and added four free throws on six attempts.

Junior point guard R.J. Evans led Holy Cross (15-14) with 18 points and seven rebounds and added three assists and three steals. Senior leader Devin Brown finished with 17 points and five steals in his final collegiate game. Holy Cross managed to tie the game at 56 and cut the deficit to 61-60 in the second half, but failed to connect on a field goal for 7:30 minutes late in the final stanza.

Lafayette controlled the game from the opening minutes, as they jumped out to a 12-2 lead at the Hart Center. Even after several first half runs, the Crusaders still found themselves trailing 43-38 at the half.

The second half was much of the same, as Holy Cross earned their first tie (56-56) before the Leopards went on a 5-0 run to take the lead back. After a 4-0 spurt by the Crusaders brought the game to 61-60 with nine minutes to play, Holy Cross went scoreless for the next 7:31, as the missed two field goals and turned the ball over four times in the span.

The Crusaders final burst brought them to within three (76-73) with with 41 seconds to play but Lafayette knocked down all eight of their free throws in the final minute.

With the loss, Holy Cross' season comes to an end with the Crusaders finishing at 15-14 and 10-3 in Worcester. It was the final game for three seniors: Mike Cavataio, Charlie Mills and Brown. Catavaio, a St. John's transfer, played three seasons with the Crusaders and was a starting small forward for two. Mills was a four-year walk-on for the team and Brown was a two-year starter and two-time Patriot League All Second Team selection.

(1) Bucknell 87, (8) Navy 63

The defending champions had no problems against Navy (3-26) as they extended two dubious streaks for the Midshipmen. Behind 18 points from Joe Willman and 15 off the bench from Bryson Johnson, the Bison (23-8) handed Navy it's 21st consecutive loss and NCAA leading 12th straight conference tournament loss.

Bucknell shot 62.7 percent (32-of-51) from the field and over 50 percent from distance, as they won their fourth consecutive Patriot League Tournament game. Sophomore guard Cameron Ayers finished with 10 points and five assists and First Team selection Mike Muscala finished with just two points and three rebounds in 20 minutes for the Bison.

Navy fell behind 41-21 at halftime and saw the deficit reach 30, before putting together a spirited fight to cut the deficit to as a few as 22. Sophomore guard Isaiah Roberts finished with a game-high 20 points and five assists for the Midshipmen.

With the win, Bucknell advances to Saturday's semifinals, where they will host Lafayette at 4:30 p.m. EDT.

(2) Lehigh 70, (7) Colgate 57

In the closest games these two teams played all season, Lehigh (24-7) outlasted Colgate (8-22) 70-57 behind four players in double figures. Sophomore guard Mackey McKnight finished with 16 points and Patriot League Player of the Year C.J. McCollum added 15 more, as the Mountain Hawks capitalized on 22 Colgate turnovers to pull out the victory.

After beating the Raiders by an average of 26 points per game in two regular season contests, Lehigh needed a 15-0 run in the second half to pull away from Colgate. McCollum was a big factor in the win, as he recorded a Patriot League Tournament Record seven steals, in helping to force the 22 Colgate turnovers.

Senior forward Sterling Melville made the most of his final collegiate game, as he finished with a game-high 21 points off the bench for Colgate. The Raiders outshot the Mountain Hawks, 41.3 percent to 38.1 percent, pulled down seven more rebounds (32-25) and even held a slight edge from the free throw line but couldn't overcome their struggles handling the ball.

With the win, Lehigh will host (3) American Saturday at 2 p.m. EDT. The two teams split a pair of games during the regular season, with both teams winning on their home floor.

(3) American 57, (6) Army 40

A swarming defense and a balanced offense were more than enough Wednesday night, as American (20-10) ended Army's (12-18) season with a 57-40 victory.

American held the Black Knights to just 11 first half points and 26.3 percent (15-of-57) shooting from the field, as Army was held to it's lowest total of the season for the third time and the second time by the Eagles. Junior point guard Daniel Munoz was the lone American player in double figures with 11 points and also dished out a team-high four assists.

Ella Ellis, a First Team All Patriot League Member, finished with a game-high 13 points and added 10 rebounds, for the lone double-double of the night. Senior guard Julian Simmons added nine points on 3-of-9 shooting from the field but Army just couldn't get anything going offensively, as they made just 4-of-26 (15.4 percent) of their 3-point attempts.

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Patriot League Tournament Overview: Holy Cross Faces Difficult Road

The Patriot League Tournament is upon us and for seven teams that means their season ending and the painful process of preparing for next year will begin within the next 10 days. With no hopes of an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, every team is desperate for one magical three-game run to get them to the Big Dance.

While the bottom four teams have slim to no chance of making it to the championship game, all four of the teams atop the standings have shown themselves capable of beating any of the other top contenders. Here's a look at each team, the top players in the conference and our projections for how the Patriot League Tournament will play out.

1. Bucknell Bison (22-8, 12-2): Outside of one bad three-day span, the Bison were unbeatable in league play. Bucknell won their first 10 games against conference foes and nine of the team's 12 wins came by double-digits. The defending champions can claim the two-time defending Patriot League Coach of the Year (Dave Paulsen), the three-time Defensive Player of the Year (Bryan Cohen) and arguable the conference's best big man in Mike Muscala (16.7 ppg, 9.1 rbg). And it doesn't hurt that they will host every round at the Sokja Pavilion where they are 10-2 on the season.

2. Lehigh Hawks (23-7, 11-3): The Hawks are just one of two teams to have beaten Bucknell this season and were the lone team to do it on the Bison's home floor. Junior guard C.J. McCollum earned his second Player Of the Year Award Monday and is the real deal. The Canton, Ohio native leads the league in scoring (21.7 ppg) and is in the top five in the league in rebounding (6.6 rbg) and assists (3.4 apg). With McCollum leading the league's best offense, the Hawks definitely pose the biggest threat to the Bisons.

3. American Eagles (19-10 ,10-4): After winning back-to-back titles in 2008 and 2009, American is looking to get back to the title game for the first time in three years. The Eagles had just four losses in conference play, but all four losses came against the top four teams, including lose on the road against each team. Senior guard Charles Hinkle, a Vanderbilt transfer, has finally put it all together this season, as he's averaging 18.8 points, good for second best in the league. Former Boston University commit Daniel Munoz leads the conference in assists at 4.2 per game.

4. Holy Cross Crusaders (15-13, 9-5): After struggling to put it all together for most of the season, Holy Cross is the hottest team entering the league tournament with a six-game winning streak. The Crusaders win streak includes home contests against American and Bucknell and they can claim a win over Lehigh in their conference opener. Holy Cross' biggest problem all season long has been their play on the road, while they boast a 10-2 record at home, the Crusaders are just 4-11 away from Worcester. Guards Devin Brown and R.J. Evans are both among the top 13 scorers in the conference and freshmen guard Justin Burrell (7.4 ppg, 3.8 apg) earned the Patriot League Rookie of the Year.

5. Lafayette Leopards (12-17, 7-7): There's a serious drop-off in the league after Holy Cross and it starts with Lafayette. The Leopards have dropped four of their past five games and won just one of eight games against the conference elite. Despite making a magical run last season all the way to the championship game as the sixth seed, things will be a little bit more difficult for the Leopards who are just 6-10 on the road. Senior forward Ryan Willen claimed a spot on the conference's first team behind his 14.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per game.

6. Army Black Knights (12-17, 5-9): Meet the least successful program in Patriot League Tournament history. Despite being a founding member of the conference, Army has made just five semifinal appearances in over 20 years and is still looking for their first championship game appearance, much less championship title. Army won just five games in conference play and four of them came against the two teams in the league's cellar. Junior forward Ella Ellis has been one of the few bright spots for head coach Zach Spiker. The star forward is averaging 17.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game.

7. Colgate Raiders (8-21, 2-12): Meet Colgate: the Raiders have just one win on the season against an above .500 team (15-14 St. Francis (PA) and a 3-13 record in 2012. Colgate along with Navy are automatic losses that you can take to the bank. In two games this season against first round opponent Lehigh, the Raiders lost by 22 at home and 30 on the road. While the Raiders only have one scorer averaging 10 or more points per game (Pat Moore), the team does have four players averaging eight points or more.

8. Navy Midshipmen (3-25, 0-14): Navy is one of just five teams nationally to have waded through a winless conference season and they hold the nation's longest active losing streak at 21 games. After winning three of their first seven games (including a win over a Division III Penn State Altoona), the Midshipmen haven't won a game in three months. There is some hope for the Midshipmen, as three of the team's top four players (J.J. Avila, Worth Smith, Isaiah Roberts) still have at least two years left on campus.

Projections:

Wednesday February 29

(1) Bucknell Over (8) Navy: This might not be as obvious as you think, the Midshipmen and Bison played Saturday with Bucknell only winning 64-55.

(2) Lehigh Over (7) Colgate: Sorry Raiders fans, but the 26-point average winning margin the Hawks had in the first two games is a pretty indicator of things to come.

(3) American Over (6) Army: American has made 10 straight semifinal appearances and that streak won't be broken this season against a wildly inconsistent Army squad.

(4) Holy Cross Over (5) Lafayette: This is by far the closest matchup, with both teams winning on the opponents home floor. Just two weeks ago Lafayette looked like a shoe-in for home court advantage but the teams have gone in different directions and the Crusaders have all the momentum.

Saturday March 3

(1) Bucknell Over (4) Holy Cross: Yes the Crusaders took down the Bison two weekends ago but that was in Worcester and a trip to upstate Pennsylvania will be a wildly different game. Bucknell's strength inside with two quality scorers and the team's fantastic depth will be a bit too much for the Crusaders.

(2) Lehigh Over (3) American: The teams split during the regular season, but the Hawks home-court advantage is just too much of a factor to overlook.

Wednesday March 7

(2) Lehigh Over (1) Bucknell: Yes the number one seed has won eight of the past nine tournaments but C.J. McCollum is a one of a kind talent. The nation's sixth leading scorer hit the game-winner at Bucknell in the team's 55-52 win but has averaged just 14.5 points in two meetings. If McCollum has a huge game he can lead Lehigh to their second title in three years.

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