Tiny Dancers: Holy Cross shocks Lehigh to win the Patriot League

There’s no way anyone on Lehigh thought their team had any chance of losing to 13-19 Holy Cross on Wednesday night.

But 13-19 Holy Cross became 14-19 Holy Cross, beating the seconded-seeded Mountain Hawks 59-56 to win the 2016 Patriot League’s auto bid and reach the 13th NCAA Tournament in program history.

Bill Carmody, who coached at Northwestern for more than a decade and could never get that program to the Big Dance, does it here. In his first season at the Cross. With a team that was 0-9 on the road in league play before the league tournament — then won four straight road games.

So unlikely. How unlikely? Try 0.5 percent to win the freaking thing. Whaaaaaaat.

Yet this pattern continues. Check this.

Yeah, this is not a good thing for college basketball. These league tournaments can create good TV and great drama, but the small conferences need to be sending their best teams and not chancing having a really bad team catch lightning in a bottle and then luck its way into the tournament.

Lehigh’s coaches and players will relive the final possession for the entirety of the offseason and maybe beyond. The Mountain Hawks had four good looks from 3 on their final possession and missed every attempt.

Malachi Alexander had himself one heck of a night, scoring a game-high 26 points and helping HC work the Princeton offense to smooth returns. Lehigh was very tight.

So now Holy Cross is headed to Dayton. That’s a lock. This team will play Tuesday or Wednesday against another low-seeded team in its conference tournament that managed to rally and stun league brethren.

Carmody last coached in the NCAAs 18 years ago, when he guided Princeton. Holy Cross hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since the ’50s. This marks the first time in Patriot League history that the conference was been won by a team with a losing record.

The Vitals:

  • Record: 14-19 overall, 5-13 in the Patriot League (No. 9 seed)
  • Most recent tournament appearance: 2007 (No. 13 seed who lost to No. 4 Southern Illinois 61-51 in the Round of 64)
  • Jerry Palm predicts: 16 seed
  • RPI: 264
  • KenPom Ranking: 281
  • Sagarin Ranking: 275
  • Best wins: at Lehigh, vs. Harvard
  • Worst losses: vs. Lafayette, American (2x), vs. Loyola-Maryland
  • Notable stat: 61.6. The percentage of made baskets that come via assist for the Crusaders. That’s a high clip. Holy Cross shares the ball, and this kind of offense usually shows itself in good ways in the NCAA Tournament.

Closing quip: Here’s Holy Cross’ run to dance time.

Beat No. 8 Loyola-Maryland 72-67

Beat No. 1 Bucknell 77-72 in double overtime.

Beat No. 4 Army 60-48.

Beat No. 2 Lehigh 59-56.

It’s one of the most unlikely conference championships in college basketball history. I’m not writing hyperbole here. Holy Cross is a bad team that got good in a week and a half and just ripped through a league. Bucknell and Lehigh, either one, would have been dangerous 16 seeds. Now I can’t wait to see what Holy Cross does in Dayton. Because that Princeton O and D is not easy to prepare for.

Holy Cross stunned Lehigh to win the Patriot League(USATSI.
Holy Cross stunned Lehigh to win the Patriot League. (USATSI)

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