Down to the Wire
Second Seed on the Line this Saturday
Published: Thursday, February 28, 2013
Updated: Thursday, February 28, 2013 13:02
The last time the Lafayette men’s basketball team swept Lehigh, Tony Johnson ‘13 was a freshman at Folsom High School.
Last Sunday, a rowdy, packed house watched the senior point guard push the Leopards (9-4 overall, 16-14 Patriot League) to their first season sweep of the Mountain Hawks (19-8, 9-4) since 2005. The 79-71 victory also gave Lafayette a handle on the second seed for the Patriot League Tournament, a lead that they refused to relinquish on Wednesday as they handily defeated Colgate 80-67 in Hamilton, N.Y. The win against the Raiders (11-19, 5-8) was Lafayette’s fourth in a row, a season high. The last time they won four straight was the 2009-10 season, when they went on a six-game tear en route to making a Patriot League Championship appearance.
For the fifth straight game, Johnson led the team in scoring. He dropped 17 points and also added in five rebounds, four assists, and two steals. Seth Hinrichs ‘15 and Dan Trist ‘15 also pitched in 15 and 14 points, respectively, to help the Leopards to their most decisive win since a 70-47 triumph February 9 at Navy.
“He’s been terrific,” Head Coach Fran O’Hanlon said regarding Johnson’s recent play. “He’s our leader, he’s who we look to [in order] to close [games] out for us.”
Johnson has simply taken control of the Leopards over the past four contests. He’s averaged 20.75 points, a .667 (30-40) shooting percentage, and 4.75 assists over the four-game tear. He’s also moved into fourth place all-time in career steals with 157. He passed Brian Ehlers ‘00 with his two thefts against Colgate. The scoring outburst is a departure from his usual, pass-first style of play.
“The more shots I make the more aggressive I become,” Johnson said. “Whether it’s dropping shots or dishing it off to teammates. I hope I can keep it going towards the final game of the season.”
The Leopards need to continue their streak in order to secure the second overall seed. Army sits a game back from Lafayette, owns the series tiebreaker over the Leopards, and can still take control over the second spot in the Patriot League Tournament with a win against Lehigh and a Lafayette loss. The Mountain Hawks themselves can claim the No. 2 seed with a win over Army and a Lafayette loss. For Lafayette, the tournament scenario is simple: beat American and lock down the No. 2 seed and two guaranteed home games in the Patriot League Tournament. If they lose, they are guaranteed the third slot. Bucknell locked up the No. 1 seed on Wednesday.
The importance of Lafayette’s victory this weekend extends beyond mere home-court advantage. If they do manage to secure the second seed this Saturday, they will face Holy Cross at home for the first Patriot League Tournament game. The Leopards defeated the Crusaders twice during the regular season, including a 10-point drubbing at the Kirby Sports Center.
In order to do so, however, the Leopards will have to duplicate their win against Lehigh. The last time they swept the Mountain Hawks was in 2005—also the last year that they beat American at home. O’Hanlon was reluctant to look past the Eagles, given their recent history.
“American has given us a lot of trouble,” he said. “We haven’t beaten them at home in a while. They’re a tough team for us to play. They provide tough matchups, and we need to go out and give them a better game.”
The last time the Eagles faced the Leopards was February 2, a game that American won 68-64. However, according to Johnson, the Eagles are going to be facing a much different team this time around.
“We’re feeling good right now, especially after four straight wins,” the senior said. “All the momentum’s on our side now. It’s going to be a big home game, with hopefully another big crowd. I like our chances.”
The Leopards will take on American this Saturday at noon in Kirby Sports Center. They will host the Patriot League Tournament quarterfinal Wednesday at 7 pm.