Wednesday night featured all 10 Patriot League teams in action and will likely end up being one of the most important days of the conference’s season. Two of the league’s best squared off for the first time, while someone finally achieved some separation at the top of the league standings. Here are three major takeaways from the night’s action:
Lehigh has the early edge on Bucknell
Two of the favorites to win the conference title squared off as Lehigh traveled to Bucknell and came away with an 82-71 victory. Lehigh withstood a Bucknell comeback in the second half and turned a tied score into a double-digit win in the game’s final six minutes. The preseason pick for Player of the Year in the Patriot League, Tim Kempton, led the way for the Mountain Hawks with 20 points and eight rebounds.
The win pulls Lehigh back into the title race after a rough start to conference play. Despite entering the year as the pick to win the league, the Mountain Hawks opened the conference slate 1-2, with a rough home loss to Loyola (MD). But consecutive wins over American and now Bucknell have Lehigh back above .500 in the conference.
Meanwhile, the loss for Bucknell represents its first slip in conference play after starting 4-0. The Bison now fall a step behind the top of the conference standings at 4-1 and will likely need to find a way to turn the tables on Lehigh when they visit the Mountain Hawks on Feb. 8 if they want to win the conference regular season title. Without a win there, they risk losing a potential tiebreaker to Lehigh by virtue of their head-to-head record.
Boston University is in the driver’s seat
Taking advantage of Bucknell’s loss, the Boston University Terriers took sole possession of first place following a 76-66 win at home against American. The Terriers are now 5-0 in the Patriot League and sport both the league’s most efficient offense and defense in conference play according to KenPom. Eric Fanning and Cedric Hankerson have been BU’s top scoring threats this year and Wednesday night was no different. Fanning finished with 17 points while Hankerson led all Terriers with 21.
While Lehigh and Bucknell have been the usual suspects of late near the top of the Patriot League, BU worked its way into the conversation with a third-place finish last season. The Terriers were picked to finish second in the conference this year, but have now established themselves as the team to beat. Their 5-0 start includes wins over Lehigh and last year’s conference tournament champion Holy Cross. However, those wins came at home. BU will still need to prove itself on the road against both of those teams and Bucknell.
Holy Cross remains the dark horse
Holy Cross shocked everyone last year by winning the conference tournament despite finishing ninth in the regular season standings. The Crusaders even went on to win an NCAA Tournament game at the First Four.
Conference foes are sure to pay more attention to Holy Cross this season after last year’s success, but the Crusaders won convincingly over Lafayette on Wednesday night by a final of 71-54. Holy Cross returns most of its championship squad from a season ago, including Karl Charles, who led all scorers Wednesday with 20 points.
The win on Wednesday brings Holy Cross to 3-2 in conference play. But while they are still near the top of the standings, the Crusaders have already lost to both Boston and Bucknell. Therefore, despite having completed a pair of the tougher games on their schedule, the Crusaders will need someone else’s help to take down the Terriers and the Bison if they want to pass them in the standings for the regular season crown.
Boston 76 American 66
Lehigh 82 Bucknell 71
Holy Cross 71 Lafayette 54
Navy 75 Loyola (MD) 62
Colgate 79 Army 76