Lehigh is experiencing the best start to conference play through the first 10 Patriot League games since 2018-19. The top of the standings are bunched up, with five teams having at least six wins and Colgate ahead of the field based on win percentage at 5-2.
Lehigh is 6-4 and in a tie for fourth place.
With eight league games remaining for the Mountain Hawks, the team’s goal is to secure a high seed in the Patriot League tournament and ultimately make a run at the NCAA tournament, freshman Keith Higgins Jr. said.
After a rocky start to the season, the men’s basketball team has stabilized at the halfway point in Patriot League play. The Mountain Hawks lost their first four out-of-league games and finished the non-Patriot League stretch with two wins and 10 losses.
The team gained momentum in the start of the Patriot League season, with two consecutive wins against American and Colgate, the latter of which Lehigh has not beaten since 2018.
The Mountain Hawks now stand at 6-4 in conference play, with wins against American, Colgate, Holy Cross, Bucknell, Navy and Army. They dropped games against Army, Loyola, Boston University and Holy Cross.
Higgins Jr. said there are a couple of games the team is disappointed to have lost.
“We know we can’t win them all,” Higgins Jr. said. “It’s a matter of staying true to our identity, which is defense, toughness and resolve.”
Higgins Jr. said the win against Colgate was a defining victory of the season because Lehigh was picked to finish last in the conference in a Patriot League preseason poll; Colgate was picked to finish second, just one vote away from first place Boston University.
The Colgate win came on Jan. 4 in a home game at Stabler Arena. Lehigh won 85-81, a season high for points at the time. Senior Jeameril Wilson tied his career high with 20 points. Higgins scored the most in his career with 23, 16 of them coming in the second half.
Higgins Jr. said the heightened intensity of conference games has allowed Lehigh to raise its play.
“Every possession is so important. All eyes are on every single play, every box out and every rebound,” Higgins Jr. said. “It’s really about staying focused because these games mean so much to the standings so that we can get a good seed for the Patriot League tournament and ultimately try to win it.”
Finding a rhythm throughout the course of Patriot League play is paramount for this group, junior guard Jake Betlow said.
Part of finding that rhythm comes through game preparation and scouting.
“For a solid two days we’ll dedicate 50 percent or more of our practices to strictly preparation for the other team… The Patriot League (preparation) is very intense,” Betlow said. “When we call out a play, the entire opposing team’s bench is going to yell out the play. We’re going to do the same thing.”
Taylor said that the team spends more time scouting Patriot League opponents compared to out of league play.
The familiarity of playing against the same opponents year after year allows teams to become familiar with the personnel and play calls of their opponents.
“The competition is different because (in Patriot League games) we’re playing teams that we’ve known for so long, and we play everyone twice a year,” junior Evan Taylor said.
The Mountain Hawks are 3-1 at home in Patriot League games thus far.
Betlow said that defending Stabler Arena during home games is important for the team going forward.
“There’s a sense of pride when you’re playing on the court that you’re running, bleeding and sweating on for 11 months of the year,” Betlow said.
The Mountain Hawks have eight remaining games, five of which will be played at Stabler Arena.
The Patriot League tournament begins on March 1.