Junior center Tim Kempton keeps the ball out of the hands of College of the Holy Cross player Eric Green during the Patriot League Championship game on Wednesday, March 9, 2016, in Stabler Arena. Kempton was given his second straight AP honorable mention All-American honor on Tuesday. (Erik Thomas/B&W Photo)

Lehigh falls to Holy Cross 59-56 in Patriot League Championship

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The Lehigh men’s basketball 2015-16 season was all set up to have a storybook ending.

The team started 0-7 after facing one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the entire country. The team had three players who would miss the entire season.

And after a mediocre start to league play, the Mountain Hawks pulled off an 11-game winning streak to get them into the Patriot League Championship, a home game against the No. 9 seed College of the Holy Cross. Only one more win and Lehigh was back to the NCAA Tournament.

However, the Crusaders spoiled that ending, defeating Lehigh 59-56 Wednesday at Stabler Arena to win the Patriot League Championship.

Instead of Lehigh fulfilling what seemed like a natural ending to the season, it was Holy Cross who cut down the nets. It was Holy Cross who celebrated in the middle of Stabler Arena. And it was Holy Cross earned a chance in March Madness.

Down three points with 26 seconds remaining, Lehigh had four separate opportunities to tie it on the final possession of the game. Freshman guard Kyle Leufroy and sophomore guard Kahron Ross traded off taking 3-pointers for four consecutive misses, including a wild jump shot from Ross as time expired that missed the mark.

“We knew we needed to make a play,” coach Brett Reed said. “There was enough time that we didn’t have to resort to a 3-pointer, but the three presented itself, and it was a pretty clean look. Under those circumstances and those situations, if you told me that we would have Kyle Leufroy and Kahron Ross both of them with two open looks within the last 26 seconds to tie it, I would probably take that odds on our team.”

As with the last matchup between these two teams, which was a five-point victory for the Mountain Hawks on Feb. 15, Lehigh was stifled by the Holy Cross 1-3-1 defense, and it was held to just 14 points in the first half.

“I would say it affected it us to where it put us in a bad situation,” junior center Tim Kempton said. “I thought we came out and played on our heels instead of being the aggressor, and that’s ultimately what led to that hole in the first half.”

Kempton still managed to record 20 points and six rebounds, but most of the Mountain Hawks’ roster struggled with its shot. Lehigh finished the game shooting 38.1 percent from the field after one of its worst first halves of the year.

Kempton was the only Lehigh player to make more than half his shots. Junior guard Austin Price (2-for-12), Leufroy (5-for-15) and Ross (4-for-12) all missed a large percentage of their attempts.

Kempton led this charge, converting on a trio of 3-point plays, the second of which cut the Holy Cross lead to just four points midway through the second half. Each time, Kempton exploded with emotion, looking toward the crowd yelling “Let’s go!” at the top of his lungs.

However, Holy Cross made its final four three throws of the game to help seal the victory.

Unless Lehigh gets invited to another end-of-season tournament, the team will finish the year with a 17-15 record, ending its 11-game win streak. Holy Cross will move on to the NCAA Tournament as an automatic qualifier.

Lehigh will return most of its key players in 2016-17, including the addition of three new recruits and the three players who missed all of this season due to injury.

“It wasn’t a question in our minds that we could make it to this point,” Kempton said slowly, fighting back tears. “It’s obviously frustrating to get to this point in the season and come up empty.”

Clutch Rallys the Lehigh fans before the Patriot League Championship game on Wednesday, March 9, in Stabler Arena. Fans packed the stands to see #2 seed Lehigh face The College of Holy Cross for the Championship. (Erik Thomas/B&W Photo) Senior Tim Kempton keeps the ball out of the hands of Holy Cross player Eric Green during the Patriot League Championship game on Wednesday, March 9, in Stabler Arena. Lehigh lost to Xavier in its season opener, 84-81. (Erik Thomas/B&W Photo) Junior Kahron Ross drives to the net against Holy Cross senior Matt Husek in the Patriot League Championship game Wednesday, March 9, 2016, at Stabler Arena. Ross provided seven assists in Lehigh's 68-51 win over Holy Cross on Saturday. (Erik Thomas/B&W Photo) Lehigh seniors Justin Goldsborough, Devon Carter, and John Ross Glover look on from the bench during the final minutes of the Patriot League Championship Game. Coming into the final minute, Lehigh trailed The College of the Holy Cross by only a few points, and managed to pull it to one within 30 seconds left in the game. (Erik Thomas/B&W Photo) Head coach Brett Reed reacts to a pentaly call against Lehigh during the Patriot League Championship game on Wednesday, March 9, in Stabler Arena. Both Lehigh and The College of the Holy Cross were penalized 14 times during the game. (Erik Thomas/B&W Phot) Head coach Brett Reed signals to his team during the first half of the Patriot League Championship game on Wednesday, March 9, in Staber Arena. Reed's team fell to The College of the Holy Cross with a final score of 59-56. (Erik Thomas/B&W Photo) Lehigh fans try to distract The College of Holy Cross junior Malachi Alexander during the Patriot League Championship game on Wednesday, March 9, in Stabler Arena. Alexander was named MVP of the championship. (Erik Thomas/ B&W Photo) Senior forward Jesse Chuku battles with College of the Holy Cross center Matt Husek in the first half of the Patriot League Championship game on Wednesday, March 9, 2016 in Stabler Arena. Lehigh lost the game 59-56. (Erik Thomas/B&W Photo) Lehigh junior Austin Price jumps and shoots for three in a heartbreaking loss against Holy Cross in the Patriot League championship game on Wednesday, March 9, 2016. The Mountain Hawks fell to the Crusaders 56-59, ending their season. (Gracie Chavers/BW staff) Lehigh guard Austin Price drives to the basket to score in the Patriot League Championship game on Wednesday, March 9, 2016 against Holy Cross. Lehigh will open up the season on the road against Xavier University. (Gracie Chavers/B&W Staff) Lehigh head coach Brett Reed jumps in excitement during a heart stopping Patriot Leage championship game. The Mountain Hawks fell to Holy Cross 56-59 on Wednesday, March 9, 2016 at Stabler Arena. (Gracie Chavers/BW staff) Lehigh junior Tim Kempton reaches high to get the ball to the basket in the Patriot League Championship game Wednesday, March 9, 2016. The Mountain Hawks fell to Holy Cross 56-59. (Gracie Chavers/BW staff) Lehigh sophomore Kyle Leufroy shoots a three pointer in the Patriot League Championship game on Wednesday, March 9, 2016. Lehigh lost to Holy Cross 56-59, ending their season without a bid to the NCAA tournament. (Gracie Chavers/BW staff) Lehigh freshmen Kyle Leufroy hit the crout as the final buzzer sounded signifying Lehigh's loss in the Patriot League Championship game to The college of the Holy Cross on Wednesday, March 9, in Stbaler Arena. Leufroy finished the game with 13 points and 8 rebounds. (Erik Thomas/B&W Photo) Lehigh junior Tim Kempton recovers the final rebound of the game and drops to the court after Lehigh fell to The College of Holy Cross on Wednesday, March 9, in Stabler Arena. Kempton was named Patriot League PLayer of the Year this year for the second year in a row. (Erik Thomas/B&W Photo) Lehigh junior Austin Price sits on the court in disbelief after Lehigh fell to The College of the Holy Cross on Wednesday, March 9, in Stabler Arena. Price was kept quite during the game, finishing with only six points and two rebounds. (Erik Thomas/B&W Photo) A Lehigh fan looks on in shock as the final buzzer sound sand Lehigh fell by three to The College of Holy Cross during the Patriot League Championship game on Wednesday, March 9, in Stabler Arena. Lehigh fans packed the arena, covering the stands of a sold out Stabler with brown and white. (Erik Thomas/B&W Photo) Lehigh junior Tim Kempton sinks his head in defeat after the Patriot League Championship game on Wednesday, March 9, 2016. The Mountain Hawks lost a tough battle to Holy Cross, losing 56-59. (Gracie Chavers/BW staff)
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Lehigh seniors Justin Goldsborough, Devon Carter, and John Ross Glover look on from the bench during the final minutes of the Patriot League Championship Game. Coming into the final minute, Lehigh trailed The College of the Holy Cross by only a few points, and managed to pull it to one within 30 seconds left in the game. (Erik Thomas/B&W Photo)

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