For the Lehigh men’s basketball team, February always seems to be the month where everything comes together.
In the Mountain Hawks’ last two seasons, they’ve gone 15-2 in February alone. In 2016, the team won all nine Patriot League games for the month.
Lehigh (12-13, 7-7 PL) started out its February 2018 campaign 3-0 and will travel to the second seed in the league, Colgate University (14-11, 9-5 PL), Wednesday night with the hopes of adding another win to its four-game winning streak.
“We are playing with more energy within our last couple of games,” coach Brett Reed said. “Our defense has forced a few more turnovers, and we’ve been a little bit more assertive and aggressive, and that has contributed to taking another step.”
Earlier in the season, the Raiders defeated the Mountain Hawks 76-72, and Reed said the poor defense that plagued the team then continues to be a weak point for it now.
Reed said Lehigh has not been a strong defensive team compared to its league competitors. He said improving defensive consistency and intensity will go a long way for the team.
While Reed acknowledged the Mountain Hawks’ defense as an area that needs improvement, he said he believes teamwork and companionship are the young team’s greatest strengths.
Reed said, specifically, the freshmen’s attitudes have fused a lot of positive energy into the team and have helped enhance the culture of the program itself.
One of these rookies, freshman guard Caleb Bennett, has already made significant contributions to the team.
“It’s been a fun process being a freshman on this team and learning how to play college basketball and going up against all of the older guys,” Bennett said. “Our leadership on the team has done a great job of making sure everyone is happy and that everyone is held accountable.”
He said the team’s biggest weakness, however, is falling into lapses during games and allowing opponents to take off on big runs.
This weakness has been the difference between winning and losing games. The team has lost several close contests, including a double overtime defeat against Loyola and a buzzer beater loss to Navy.
Bennett said the Mountain Hawks need to focus on taking and converting shots as well as opening up the floor for driving space.
The loss of players to injuries has also taken a toll on the team and forced Lehigh to play different lineups, but sophomore forward Pat Andree said players who are seeing more playing time than they’re used to haven’t failed to impress.
“Recently, we have been able to come out on top,” he said, “and that just proves that any guy on this team can step up at any given moment.”
Andree said heading into the Patriot League Tournament, Lehigh’s biggest strength is the momentum it found in February.
“Beating Bucknell shows not only that we can compete with anyone, but also that we can beat anyone as long as we come out and play like we know we can play,” Andree said. “Whether we are up early or down early, it just shows that the Patriot League is so spread out. Everyone is so even. It will be anyone’s game in March.”