Holy Cross failed to record a single road win during regular season play in the Patriot League. After finishing ninth in the conference with a 5-13 record, the Crusaders won their fourth consecutive road game 59-56 on Wednesday against Lehigh to claim the Patriot League tournament title and earn an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
It will be Holy Cross' first time in the Big Dance since 2007 and in his first season in Worcester, Mass., head coach Bill Carmody will make his first NCAA tournament appearance since 1998 after failing to do so in 13 seasons at Northwestern.
"It was certainly improbable," Carmody said of his team's run on the broadcast during his post-game interview. "They hung in there and these last 10 days have been extraordinary."
Holy Cross' 1-3-1 zone initially took the air out of Lehigh's potent three-point attack. The Crusaders led 25-14 at halftime after forcing nine turnovers and holding the Mountain Hawks to 1 of 7 from beyond the arc. On offense, Holy Cross worked the clock, shared the ball and made five threes. There wasn't a single fast break point scored in the first half by either team as there weren't many transition scoring opportunities to be found.
One of the benefits of being the lower seed in the Patriot League is the ability for teams to host tournament games on their home floors. However, as the game's pace slowed to a crawl and Lehigh's deficit grew to double figures, the home crowd was a non-factor in the first half.
It didn't help that two-time defending Patriot League player of the year Tim Kempton, a 6'10" junior forward, went scoreless for 14-plus minutes after scoring Lehigh's first basket of the game.
Lehigh made its first three-point attempt after halftime, re-igniting the crowd. The Mountain Hawks exceeded their first half point total by the second media timeout in the second half as Kempton found success in the paint and Lehigh made three quick threes.
Despite owning the 12th best three-point percentage in the country, Lehigh struggled to find its rhythm from outside. The Mountain Hawks finished 8 of 26 (30.8%) from distance, including missing four game-tying three-point attempts on the final possession of the game. Meanwhile, Holy Cross rode the hot hand of Malachi Alexander, who scored a game-high 26 points on 6 of 7 shooting from behind the arc.
The win ended Lehigh's 11-game win streak, which was previously tied for the second-longest in the country. Holy Cross will own the worst record by an NCAA tournament-bound team since Cal Poly (13-19) earned an auto-bid in 2014.