I was in Kirby yesterday, and it took me awhile to digest that loss, but here are my thoughts…
1) Tony Johnson played the best game I have ever seen a college PG play. He was unreal. Hit tough shots, controlled the game on every offensive possession, passed the well pinpoint to his teammates, and just got his shot at the rim or from deep whenever he wanted. It was an unbelievable performance. He is so far and above the other PGs in the league. I think his general problem is he is too unselfish, but yesterday he was not, and it was a pleasure to watch, even on the losing end. Even though HG was amazing in his own right (more on that later), Johnson was even better.
2) Great college atmosphere in Kirby yesterday. A lot of Lafayette students, and a nice Lehigh turnout, so it was a great setting. Even a crappy borderline high school gym like Kirby blows away Stabler for a fan experience.
3) I cannot criticize GK for his play yesterday. He was efficient in the low post, and very active on the defensive board. But, I think we struggle when we overemphasize getting the ball into Gabe on the box. The strength of this team is run and gun, shoot the 3, and always feeding the low block slows us down and makes us very predictable. Earlier in the season, after CJ injury, I agreed with those on the board who said every offensive possession should run through Gabe. But, I am starting to second guess that strategy. He needs to kick the ball out to shooters for open 3’s, but he rarely does and often takes on 2 big players for tough shots, rather than kick out the ball. That leads me to my next 2 points …
4) At this point, the offense needs to run through HG on most possessions. First, he is a mismatch all of the time when he posts up. He is usually guarded by smaller player and can feast in the post. Second, he is effective from long range against smaller players, and has an ultra quick first step to blow by slower defenders. His versatility should be our Number 1 offensive weapon. He was dynamic yesterday and really did it all, 3 ball, post, slash, dunk, alley oop, great game.
5) Reed was badly outcoached yesterday. When the game went South in the final 7 minutes, he had no response to O’Hanlon. All he ran was the exact same “Triangle” play on every possession. Gabe sets a screen at high post, MM comes off to basket, or finds Gabe who rolls or posts after roll. It was so predictable that Lafayette was even calling it out, with the same triangle sign. Nothing else, the entire end of the game. I also thought he was slow to adjust to Lafayette’s zone, that they opened with in the second half. First 2-3 possessions, put HG at the high post, with GK at the low post, and got nothing. As soon as you see zone, you need to go to SC, immediately. He is the zone buster on this team, certainly not AD, who’s jump shoot is pretty poor (his form is bad, as he sort of hangs in the air, then shoots as he is coming down from his jump). Hard to be consistent shooter with that hitch. By the time he got SC to the scorer’s table, about 3 possessions too late, he got lucky in that HG bailed him out by moving to the wing on 2 straight possessions and hitting 3’s. Then Lafayette went back to man, and we put SC into the game, and he was ineffective against their man. O’Hanlon spread the floor late, let Johnson create off the dribble, get into the paint, and either finish at the rim, or pass to back door baseline cutters. We had no defensive answer for that all day. The only move Reed made was to put Bailey on Johnson, but that was no answer.
6) Poor choice by 3 “leaders” on this squad to get disciplined in a huge game. BJB, AD and MM all must have been in hot water (in the stands we had no idea), but terrible spot to let your teammates down. Luckily, the 3 starters installed, SC, CS and JG starter strong, and even led, I believe, when the regular starters got in half way through first half. But, I still think that had some impact on the game. Johnson got to start the game with CS guarding him, which is a horrible matchup for Lehigh. CS has no quickness to stay with Johnson, and Johnson got off early, and it just continued all day.
7) We defended the pick and roll terribly all day. Usually we play that with the big man showing to stop the penetration around the pick, but for some reason yesterday, we never showed and instead switched all day. So, Lafayette got mismatches with a big on Johnson, or a PG on Geise or Trist on the low block. Terrible choice to play it that way, and it killed us all day. Only MM showed any ability to fight over the pick. Officials did a poor job of calling that all day, as Lafayette set moving screen after moving screen and half of them were full on body blocks. But, we should have done better defending that.
8) That leads me to the future after Lafayette, and my conclusion is that Lehigh is done for this season. And, the CJ era has come to an end at Lehigh. I can’t see us beating Lafayette in the semis at their place, or Bucknell in the finals at their place, let alone, both, back to back. To me, Johnson, may win the PL title for Lafayette by himself if he replicates his play yesterday. And, Bucknell, will have no answer for him as their PG spot is a mess. That is a huge advantage for Lafayette, huge. So, I think Lafayette wins PL. But, either way, I see no way Lehigh wins it this year. Our only hope to win it is a CJ return. The fact that it is late February and he is still non-weight bearing is telling. I had hoped to see him in a walking boot by now, but still on crutches, still non-weight bearing and the first PL Tourney game is 9 days away. No way he suits up again in Lehigh brown and white. A decision has been made to save him for the NBA, and I understand, although disappointed. We were all hoping for a Superman return, but highly unlikely at this point. So, yesterday was the end of the season and end of an era.