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Lehigh looks to build off upset of Duke in Patriot

Lehigh looks to build off upset of Duke in Patriot

Move over Bucknell, there's a new darling in the Patriot League.

Lehigh, it's your time to shine.

These are heady basketball times in the brainy Patriot League, whose member schools are more known for academics than athletics.

But the Mountain Hawks captured the college basketball world's attention in March when, as a No. 15 seed, they upset second-seeded Duke, 75-70 in the second round of the NCAA tournament. It was by far the biggest win in Patriot League history since ... Bucknell beat Kansas in another first-round shocker in 2005.

Guess which two teams are favored to duel for Patriot League supremacy this year?

``I don't necessarily view (Bucknell) as a rivalry to me,'' said Lehigh star guard C.J. McCollum, a preseason All-America selection. ``I look at them as a team that's in the way of a (Patriot League) championship, and I'm sure they look at us the same way.''

Not only are they top two teams, but Lehigh and Bucknell also arguably have the league's top two players. McCollum (21.9 points, 6.5 rebounds) is the Patriot League's preseason player of the year for the third straight season; center Mike Muscala (17.0 points, 9.1 rebounds) is Bucknell's anchor in the middle.

Bucknell won the regular-season title last year, only to lose the conference tournament championship game on its home court to in-state rival Lehigh. Coach Brett Reed got the Mountain Hawks into the NCAAs after Gabe Knutson blocked Cameron Ayers' baseline layup attempt with 7 seconds left to preserve a one-point lead. Foul shots ended up giving Lehigh an 82-77 win.

So Bucknell came close to getting into the NCAAs a second straight year and putting a premature end to Lehigh's success story.

``There's that extra edge,'' Bison coach Dave Paulsen said. ``Every one of our guys gives polite respect to Lehigh.''

But both McCollum and Paulsen are quick to note they aren't focusing on anything but their tough opening games. Both teams start the season Friday - Lehigh travels to No. 19 Baylor, while Bucknell goes to Purdue.

``We want to even that score,'' Paulsen said. ``But you've got to find that balance. You've got to play Purdue first ... There's a real danger with getting too far ahead.''

Besides McCollum and Muscala, both teams have savvy veterans across the floor.

Knutson (12.2 points, 5.6 rebounds) and Holden Greiner (9.4 points, 4.8 rebounds) provide senior experience and muscle up front. Quick junior Mackey McKnight (8.8 points, 3.6 assists) is McCollum's backcourt running mate and had a season-high 20 points on 7-of-15 shooting in the 70-58 loss to Xavier in the third round of the NCAAs.

``We expect big things from our senior class,'' McCollum said. But, he adds, ``Mackey will be the key for our team ... We need him for all-around performance.''

Muscala has company, too. Forward Joe Willman (10.7 points, 4.9 rebounds) teams with Muscala in the frontcourt, while fellow senior Bryson Johnson (9.3 points) is the team's top 3-point shooter. Ayers (11.1 points) joined Muscala, Knutson and McCollum on the all-Patriot League preseason team.

But replacing 6-foot-5 guard Bryan Cohen will be Paulsen's biggest task. Cohen was the league's defensive player of the year for three straight season and often had the task of guarding the opponent's best player - including McCollum. Cohen was adept at getting charge calls and giving the Bison a spark.

``We're trying to offset Cohen in a lot of ways,'' Paulsen said. But he's confident that Muscala and his fellow seniors can pick up any slack.

After Lehigh and Bucknell, American picked third in the poll of league coaches and sports information directors, while Holy Cross and Lafayette tied for fourth. Army, Colgate and Navy rounded out the poll, in that order.

But the Mountain Hawks and Bison are clearly the preseason class of the conference. It's highly unlikely two teams from the Patriot League might make the NCAAs, but anything's possible if Lehigh, Bucknell and, more importantly, the other conference teams can pull off some high-profile, nonconference upsets.

``That would be nice,'' McCollum said, ``but if not, I'm going to make sure our team is the only one'' in the NCAAs.

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Follow Genaro Armas athttp://twitter.com/GArmasAP

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3 reasons why the Caps beat the Sabres

3 reasons why the Caps beat the Sabres

You may think this was an ugly four-game road trip for the Caps, but with a 3-2 win in Buffalo on Monday, Washington managed to earn five out of a possible eight points.

Here is why the Caps beat the Sabres and managed to save the road swing.

A missed high-stick (maybe) from Ovechkin

Ovechkin scored the first goal of the game in the second period as he deflected a high-shot from Christian Djoos down past goalie Chad Johnson. But did the deflection come on a high stick? The play was reviewed and the goal was ultimately upheld. According to the NHL, it was determined that "video review supported the Referee's call on the ice that Alex Ovechkin's stick was at or below the height of the crossbar when he tipped the puck into the Buffalo net."

NBC Sports Washington analyst Alan May broke the play down during the second intermission and made his case for why the NHL actually got the call wrong.

Was that a high stick? I don't know. As compelling an argument as May made, it still looks inconclusive which means the review made the right call. What surprises me is that the referee did not disallow the goal on the initial call.

Whether the review is truly inconclusive or flat out wrong, Washington was fortunate to walk away from this sequence with the goal.

MORE CAPITALS: BIZARRE SEQUENCE LEADS TO CAPS SCORING AND GETTING PENALIZED AT THE SAME TIME

A centimeter of ice

Hockey is a game of inches and it took less than an inch to put Washington up 2-0. When an Evgeny Kuznetsov shot hit off the boards and bounced back to the front of the net, it sparked a scrum next to goalie Chad Johnson. Eventually, John Carlson was able to get a swipe on the puck sending it trickling to the goal line, but Kyle Okposo was there waiting and appeared to kick it out to safety just before it crossed. A review triggered by the Situation Room, however, revealed that the puck had just barely managed to cross the goal line before Okposo got to it.

Here's the view the NHL released after the review:

Philipp Grubauer's third period

After dominating the first 40 minutes of the game and taking a 2-0 lead, Buffalo predictably made a late push in the third period with two goals to pull within one. Washington outshot the Sabres in the first and second periods, but Buffalo reversed that trend in a big way in the third as they outshot the Caps 17-6. Grubauer turned aside 15 of those shots and was impressive after barely being tested in the first two periods.

RELATED: CHECK OUT THE 3 STARS OF THE GAME FROM CAPS-SABRE

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3 stars of the game: Caps knock out the punchless Sabres

3 stars of the game: Caps knock out the punchless Sabres

Coming off an ugly 7-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, a Buffalo Sabres team missing star Jack Eichel was just what the doctor ordered for the Caps to get back on track. Washington dominated the first two periods and then survived a late surge from Buffalo for the 3-2 win.

After battling to a scoreless first, Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson spotted Washington a 2-0 lead in the second. They then held on in the third period as Buffalo began to tilt the ice in their favor, with Evgeny Kuznetsov scoring the empty-netter to put this game out of reach. Evander Kane would pull Buffalo within one, but with only three seconds left it was too little, too late.

Here are the three stars of the game:

1. Alex Ovechkin: Ovechkin opened up the scoring in the second period as he deflected down an innocent shot from Christian Djoos past Chad Johnson.

Ovechkin also set a physical tone as he battled with defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen all game long. After taking a high elbow from Ristolainen early in the game Ovechkin skated up to Ristolainen prior to the faceoff on his next shift and let him know that it was on. 

2. John Carlson: Carlson had a hand in both of Washington's first two goals. He recorded a secondary assist on Ovechkin's goal as he made a blue line pass to Djoos which Djoos fired on net and Ovechkin deflected. Carlson then managed to hit the puck past the goal line in a scrum next to Johnson. It looked initially like Kyle Okposo had managed to kick out the puck just before it crossed, but Carlson was awarded the goal as a review showed the puck had completely crossed the line.

3. Philipp Grubauer: A Sabres team that ranks last in the NHL in scoring and that was also without its leading scorer did not test Grubauer much in the first two periods. Facing a 2-0 deficit, however, Buffalo made a third period push to try to tie the game, but Grubauer was up to the task as he turned aside 15 of the 17 shots he faced in the final 20 minutes. He finished with 32 total saves on the night.