Freshman center James Karnik dunks at the Mountain Hawk Madness event on Nov. 2 at Grace Hall. The Mountain Hawks will play their first game of the season on Saturday at Marist College. (Annie Henry/B&W Staff)

Lehigh men’s basketball seeks redemption in 2017-18 season

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This isn’t just another season for the Lehigh men’s basketball team — the Mountain Hawks have redemption on their minds. 

After losing in the Patriot League Championship two years in a row, sophomore forward Pat Andree said his team is preparing to redeem itself.

“We are just looking forward to start and play again, you never want to end a season with a loss,” Andree said. “The whole offseason we have been thinking about the final, and it motivates us to take the necessary steps to make sure we can get it done this year.”

Senior guard Kahron Ross said his sense of urgency has picked up. He has come up empty twice in the title game, and he’s hungry for a title in his final year at Lehigh. He believes this hunger has been showing in practice a lot.

“The last few years we lost in the championship because we weren’t focused on the smaller things,” Ross said. “We have been doing a lot better with that in practice and I can’t wait to just get started.”

However, the loss of recent graduates Tim Kempton, ’17, and Austin Price, ’17, might be an obstacle for the Mountain Hawks. Kempton was a two-time Patriot League Player of the Year during his career, while Price landed on the All-Patriot League third team last season. 

“Tim was one of the best players the program has ever had and Austin was one of our best leaders,” Andree said.

Ross said it will be tough without them because he’s been playing with the pair his entire Lehigh career.

“They were excellent leaders and we all really worked well together on the court, but we have a few returning guys and a lot of new players,” Ross said.

Ross returns as a two-time All-Patriot League honoree and a three-time captain for the Mountain Hawks. His fellow captain this year is junior guard Kyle Leufroy, who returns as third-year starter for the Mountain Hawks.

Leufroy averaged 11.4 points per game last season, ranking third on the team in scoring and will expect to take a bigger role scoring-wise with Kempton and Price gone. After sitting out for a year due to transfer rules, junior guard Lance Tejada is also slated as a starter for the Mountain Hawks.

Lehigh features four new freshmen and a transfer in sophomore Ed Porter on its roster of 14 players.

Assistant coach Noel Hightower said everyone needs to pull their weight.

“It is hard to replace one single person — we need a collective team effort, it is not going to be just one guy,” Hightower said. “We have a few great guys coming in. Kahron has been a great leader and has taken guys under his wing. We are just focused on getting everyone up to speed and showing them the Lehigh way of basketball.”

The Lehigh way includes a tough non-conference schedule. The Mountain Hawks are scheduled to play Princeton University, Monmouth University, Yale University, the University of Virginia, the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Southern California, which is ranked No. 10 in the AP national poll.

“The reason we challenged ourselves with non-conference opponents is to prepare for our conference,” Andree said. “To prepare for teams like Boston (University) and Bucknell (University), we need to be at our absolute best.”

Hightower said the Mountain Hawks are preparing for these tough opponents just as any other team they have faced. 

“We need to go into every game having the same mentality,” Hightower said. “We need to focus on what is coming this weekend and then go from there, but it is definitely making the team hungry.”

Andree thinks staying healthy is going to be a huge factor this season. Junior center Caleb Sedore will be returning after an injury that has prevented him from seeing any action in the past two seasons. Sophomore center Jack Lieb is still injured from last season.

“A lot of us played games injured last season and it definitely affected us,” Andree said. “We need to make sure our bodies feel the same way in October as they do in March — that is the most important thing and we have a good staff to make sure we all stay healthy.”

The Mountain Hawks will face Marist College on Saturday to kick off their season.

“I am going into a game doing whatever I can to help win,” Andree said. “I can’t wait to get our redemption season and start playing with the guys.”

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