Lehigh's upset may surprise some, but it's all part of the rehearsal

by | CBS Sports
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GREENSBORO, N.C. -- As Duke and Lehigh prepared to start their South Regional Round-of-64 matchup, most of the college basketball fans across the country had their eyes on another 2-15 contest.

The seats in Greensboro Coliseum were empty as both teams warmed up, because fans, media, and staff gathered around televisions and computers to watch Missouri fall to Norfolk State -- the fifth time in NCAA tournament history a 15-seed has knocked off a 2-seed.

By halftime, the crowd in attendance for the evening session began to believe they might see two in one day. But there was no way that it would happen to Duke, right?

But this game was not about what was happening to Duke, it was about what was happening for Lehigh.

More importantly, it was about why it was happening for Lehigh.

Head coach Brett Reed -- who served as an assistant coach at UNC-Greensboro and nearby High Point University before joining the Lehigh staff -- laid out an explanation for how his team defended Duke's shooters. The Blue Devils connected on just 1 of 10 attempts from behind the arc, and the explanation of the preparation revealed a lot about Reed's program, and this team.

"I took some advice from Billy Taylor, my predecessor here at Lehigh, to really try to simplify our defensive plan, particularly with ball-screen coverage," Reed explained. "To help to attempt to build a little bit more trust and confidence in what we do and because we have rehearsed our coverage so much, and we have seen it be successful ... I think that had fed into our confidence in being able to defend Duke."

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Confidence. You saw it for 40 minutes from the 15-seeded Mountain Hawks. From tip-to-horn there was no player or coach that believed Lehigh didn’t have a great chance to win this game. The confidence was contagious, and by midway through the second half an arena filled with Lehigh fans, North Carolina fans, and fans of March Madness were erupting as the Mountain Hawks continued to make plays despite Duke's best efforts to climb back in front.

"There was some game pressure on them when we came back, and they seemed to always have an answer and they were very bold," Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said after the game. "They were very bold the entire game.

"They were bold throughout and bold won."

Coach K was also sure to credit the most dominant player in the building, junior guard C.J. McCollum. McCollum led all scorers with 30 points and also added six rebounds and six assists. Krzyzewski compared him to former Duke forward Christian Laettner, a scorer who raises the level of play for all five players on the floor.

That high level of play was demonstrated by Lehigh for 40 minutes, and McCollum played 39 of them. But the Mountain Hawks did not drop off even for those sixty seconds the star junior sat. That's because the game plan had been rehearsed, and Reed has instilled a belief in each and every one of his players.

"One of the main concepts that I wanted to establish with our players on the onset of our journey to the NCAA tournament was to truly suspend disbelief," Reed said. "Not listen to everybody as they picked Duke to advance and how the brackets are going to look, and actually believe in their own ability, believe in what we could do, and remember back to the vision that we had set."

So while we sit back and love the madness that occurs every March, especially this special dose we received over a few hours on Friday; Lehigh can celebrate something very sane: 40 minutes of confident, well-executed basketball.

Where will it end for the Mountain Hawks? If you listen to Reed, McCollum, and the rest of the players you start to believe in them, too. They set realistic goals, and so far they have achieved them. There was a simple, four-team bracket drawn on the board in the locker room. The goal was to win two basketball games, and have the opportunity to compete in the Sweet 16.

The team believed, and they accomplished the first part. Now we are all starting to believe and await the second well-rehearsed act.

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