For the second straight year, the Lehigh men’s basketball team fell in the finals of the Patriot League Tournament.
This time, Lehigh (20-12, 12-6 Patriot) was defeated by No. 1 seed Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, losing 81-65 Wednesday.
“I’m heartbroken,” coach Brett Reed said. “It’s hard for me to express and put into words the emotion that goes into a loss like this. For these two guys to my right (seniors Austin Price and Tim Kempton), for the other guys who are in that locker room and people who care about our program, I wanted this so badly for them.”
In his last game as a Mountain Hawk, Kempton led the team in scoring with 22 points to go with his 17 rebounds. He was one of three players to score in double figures for Lehigh, with Price and sophomore Kyle Leufroy adding 11 and 14 points, respectively.
The Mountain Hawks failed to connect from long range, hitting four of their 14 3-pointers for the game and two of their nine in the second half. They also shot just 7-for-15 from the free throw line after hitting nearly 80 percent of their free throws for the season.
“It was really us beating ourselves,” Price said. “Their defense was the same defense that they’ve been playing the first few times, we just weren’t aggressive enough. I feel like that’s where we fell short.”
The two teams were evenly matched through the first half, with Lehigh going into the break down just one point.
Kempton nearly had a double-double by that point, recording 10 points and nine rebounds in the opening 20 minutes. Despite being down by just a point against the top-seeded team, Kempton thought Lehigh could have done better.
“I didn’t think we played our best basketball in the first half, we didn’t make our open shots and we just didn’t move the ball offensively and didn’t play well defensively at all,” Kempton said. “Going into the half down just one point was a minor victory for us, and we obviously didn’t capitalize coming out in the second half.”
Bucknell started to pull away after play resumed, scoring 12 unanswered points to take a commanding 47-34 lead. Lehigh managed to score three points before Bucknell responded with an 8-0 run to take what proved to be an insurmountable 18-point lead.
The loss means that Kempton’s and Price’s careers at Lehigh are now over. Over the course of four years, the duo were part of a Lehigh team that won 67 games and made two Patriot League Championships, both in the past two years. However, never making the NCAA Tournament is something both lamented over.
“To not sit here and have a championship under our belts hurts me more than I can explain,” Kempton said.
Kempton finished near the top of countless leaderboards in Lehigh and Patriot League history. After recording his 2,000th point in the semifinals of this year’s tournament, he became just the second player in Lehigh and Patriot League history with 2,000 career points and 1,000 career rebounds.
“(Kempton was a) two-time player of the year, three-time first team all-league,” Price said. “I’m disappointed in myself that I couldn’t get him to the NCAA Tournament because that great of a player deserves it.”
Both seniors contributed significantly to the program, with Kempton finishing third in career points scored at Lehigh and Price finishing 13th. Together, they combined for the fourth most points among any two classmates.
Reed noted the incredible and lasting impact the pair of seniors have had.
“I’m proud of them, I care about them, and I think there will be a lot of fond memories about what No. 5 and what No. 32 were able to do during the course of their careers,” Reed said.