Even without star point guard C.J. McCullom, the Mountain Hawks were able to take down their biggest rival Bucknell, 65-62 - with a completely unexpected source of offense leading the way.
In his freshman year at Boston University, B.J. Bailey played a grand total of 96 minutes and had almost as many fouls (15) as he did points (23). So he transferred to Lehigh.
After sitting out the 2010-11 season, last year he played a back-of-the-rotation level, amassing 259 minutes (mostly in conference play) and upping his game all the way to 64 points.
Coming into tonight, he didn't play a single minute until the Mountain Hawks' win over North Texas. He had been averaging 25 minutes a night since, but only contributing 4 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists per game. No big deal there.
Then tonight happened. In the first ten minutes, B.J. blanketed the stat sheet, recording eight points, one rebound, one assist, one block and one steal. This helped Lehigh race out to a 19-7 lead as Bucknell opened the game by shooting 3-for-16 from the field in that same time frame.
Bailey disappeared the remainder of the first half, and Bucknell rattled off a 13-2 run to close the deficit to only one by halftime, 29-28. It didn't look good for the Hawks, as they spent most of the second half using the deep three just to stay within shouting distance, but the Bailey returned to spring them back to life.
Trailing 56-51 with just under six and a half minutes to play, Bailey drained a three that gave him the last of his game-high 18 points, then assisted on both Justin Goldsborough's layup and Mackey McKnight's three-pointer that gave Lehigh a lead with 4:41 to play (59-58) that they would not relinquish.
The Bison went 1 of 7 from the field the rest of the way, and Lehigh held on for the win despite a few missed free throws down the stretch.
Coming into tonight, the Patriot league looked exactly like what it was expected to be pre-season: Lehigh, Bucknell, and everyone else. With one caveat - nobody knew how Lehigh would respond against Bucknell now that they were without McCollum.
Tonight came the answer, in the form of strong guard play from B.J. Bailey. Everyone else shot poorly (16-51), but played well enough in stretches on defense against the likes of Mike Muscala to keep their team close, and Bailey got hot a couple of times, which was enough.
If a road game against Bucknell is Lehigh's biggest test and they passed that even without McCollum, they might still win this darned conference, anyway.