GREENSBORO, N.C. This is brand new territory for Lehigh's basketball program. And from the looks of it, everyone associated with the Mountain Hawks is embracing every minute of it.
And who can blame them?
Lehigh is coming off a shocking upset of Duke, just the sixth No. 15 seed to beat a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, and may have the personnel and disposition to keep playing past Sunday's matchup with Xavier in the third round at the Greensboro Coliseum.
But first, the Mountain Hawks must be grounded in reality from the unreal high that beating Duke surely gave the players and their throng of brown-clad fans.
"I think that after any emotional game there's always the propensity to potentially fall off a little bit, because we have expended so much mental energy," Lehigh coach Dr. Brett Reed said Saturday. "However, immediately after the game, I wanted to make sure that our players had a chance to enjoy the moment, enjoy the experience.
"It was really something special that Lehigh was about to do (Friday night)."
It was. Duke won the national championship two years ago and entered the tournament with one of the top resumes in the nation. The Blue Devils, though, had been trending backwards in recent weeks and were missing their third-leading scorer, Ryan Kelly.
But that shouldn't take anything away from what the Mountain Hawks accomplished, and it has nothing to do with what Lehigh can achieve Sunday. But to shock the college hoops universe again, Lehigh needs star guard C.J. McCollum to rise up again as he did versus the Blue Devils.
McCollum scored 30 points, handed out six assists and even grabbed six rebounds. While he was just 9 for 24 from the field, many of his misses were excellent looks and often came after breaking down a Duke defender. There was a mounting psychological edge that came with each attempt, and the resultinggradual effect had Duke reeling defensively by night's end.
Xavier might be a bit quicker on the perimeter, but McCollum is a special player. Forget that he plays in the underrated Patriot League. The 6-foot-3 junior can flat out play and will give fits to whatever teams the Hawks face.
"C.J.'s a great player and a lot of people don't see it, but he's our hardest worker, too," Lehigh center Gabe Knutson said. "And that means a lot for the team, because when your best player's your hardest worker, everybody else looks at that and follows."
McCollum is also one of a few leaders on this team. But as its best player and a rare junior who has already passed the 2,000-point mark in his career, his work ethic tells the rest of the team he cares about winning.
Twenty-four shots are only a bad thing when many of the attempts don't come through the offense or are selfish in nature. That wasn't the case with McCollum. See his six assists as evidence.
And that's part of what makes this team so fascinating. One member of the media asked some of the players if they think they have a Butler-esque quality, alluding to the mid-major program that reached the last two NCAA title games. Lehigh's composition certainly is similar.
But McCollum said he thinks they more fit the mold of Davidson, which in 2008 nearly reached the Final Four, falling short versus Kansas in the Midwest Region final. He noted that both are small, academic schools that play in lower-tier conferences.
What he didn't mention is an even more intriguing comparison: Himself to Stephen Curry, the star of those Davidson teams and now a fine a NBA player. There are similarities in their games and stories.
McCollum was asked if he's Lehigh's version of Curry.
Knutson quickly responded, "Yes," before McCollum gave his thoughtful response.
"We're two different people (and) he's a terrific player," he said. "I don't I don't know how good I am compared to him. I know he's in the NBA. He's a star. I think he's a great player and he's going to have a great career."
McCollum avoided lumping himself in with Curry, but it's not a silly comparison. And neither is thinking Lehigh can extend this fantasy just a little bit longer.