B.J. Bailey had an idea his Lehigh University men's basketball team could play Duke in the NCAA Division I tournament.

His high school coach, Jamie Gillespie of Holy Spirit, sent him a text about it and Bailey was scouring the web looking to see what bracketologists had to say. Lehigh and Duke was a matchup many mentioned.

Then, it finally flashed on the television screen Sunday.

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The 15th-seeded Mountain Hawks will face the No. 2 Blue Devils at 7:15 tonight in the South Region in Greensboro, N.C.

"This is really exciting. I can't wait," said Bailey, a sophomore, and the 2009 Press boys basketball Player of the Year. "Not everyone gets to say they played against Duke. I'm looking forward to shaking coach (Mike) Krzyzewski's hand."

Lehigh earned an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament when the Mountain Hawks won the Patriot League tournament championship, their second in three years.

Bailey, a Mays Landing native, was a big part of the reason Lehigh (26-7) is in the tournament. In the Patriot League championship game, he scored six points and had two blocks and a steal in 29 minutes.

During Lehigh's current eight-game winning streak, Bailey

started playing more because of his defense. He went from getting almost no minutes earlier in the season to 20 or more minutes a game. Lehigh coach Brett Reed liked the way Bailey played in practice.

"B.J. was pretty consistent with his effort and determination and he continued to enhance our program by competing every day in practice," Reed said. "I really think the biggest thing I started to see in him was his defense presence was more consistent."

In practice, Bailey would go up against Lehigh's best player C.J. McCullough, who is averaging 21.9 points per game this year. Bailey played McCullough strong and Reed wanted to see what Bailey could do in a game.

Eight games ago, Bailey got his first significant playing time - 20 minutes in an 89-69 win over Colgate.

He has been coming off the bench consistently ever since.

"It (defense) wasn't something I was necessarily trying to focus on," Bailey said. "My expectations weren't really high at all that I was going to play a lot. But when I wound up starting to play, one thing is that one way teams win is through defense, and I wanted to do everything I could to help the team."

In the last eight games, Bailey has averaged 20.6 minutes a game. In 12 games before that, he averaged just 3.8 minutes. He's averaging 3.0 points on the season.

Bailey's attitude and demeanor have come a long way since the start of the school year when he wasn't sure if he even wanted to play basketball. Bailey struggled to find happiness in basketball since he graduated from high school.

He originally went to Boston University on scholarship after Holy Spirit. But after a series of concussions and a bit of homesickness, Bailey transferred to Lehigh to be closer to home. He didn't play basketball last season, but decided this season he would give it a try. Bailey didn't want to regret anything later on.

He definitely feels he made the right choice.

"Since I have been playing and contributing to the team, I have been having a ton of fun," Bailey, 21, said. "I am glad I decided to play. You don't get those years back. I am really excited."

The next game for Bailey and Lehigh will probably be the toughest they will face all season. Duke (27-6) is ranked sixth in the country and part of the powerful Atlantic Coast Conference.

The Mountain Hawks have been working on trying to defeat Duke by going through film and scouting reports. Many of the upperclassmen have the advantage of being in the NCAA tournament before. Lehigh lost to top-seeded Kansas 90-74 in 2010.

Reed says the Mountain Hawks are looking to be more than just a participant this year.

"I think they are aware of who they are going to play," Reed said. "They need to suspend disbelief a bit. So many prognosticators are going to pick Duke to advance. The only people that matter that have to believe we are going to win are the people sitting on our bench."

Contact Susan Lulgjuraj:


No. 15 Lehigh (26-7)

vs. No. 2 Duke (27-6)

When: 7:15 today TV: CBS

Coverage of Thursday's games, plus previews of today's games on D4.

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