The Lehigh Mountain Hawks had the Patriot League Player of the Year in sophomore forward/center Tim Kempton. They also had the Patriot League Rookie of the Year in freshman point guard Kahron Ross. On top of that, they had beaten teams from two power conferences this year, the Big East and the Pac-12.
However, all of that did not matter on a snowy Thursday night, as a shaky performance by the Mountain Hawks now means that all that they worked for is over.
As the third seed, Lehigh fell to sixth-seeded American University in the Patriot League Tournament quarterfinals, 68-62.
The Hawks were strong out of the gate. Junior forward Justin Goldsborough kicked the game off with four quick points on two buckets, and Ross made the first 3-pointer of the game to put the team off to a 9-2 start.
However, Lehigh began to encounter some difficulties, especially with ball-handling. In a 10-minute period in the first half, the team committed seven total turnovers. Still, it managed to hold its lead throughout the half and shot an impressive 13-for-26 on field goals.
With just under eight minutes left, American’s John Schoof made his second 3 of the half to put them down just 17-15. However, the Hawks were able to answer when sophomore guard Miles Simelton energized the team off of the bench, converting on his third layup to make it 25-19. Kempton also was strong offensively, leading the way with eight points.
Lehigh entered the second half with a 27-23 lead, but the turnover problems persisted as they committed four more in the first six minutes of the second half. In the middle of that time, Lehigh lost the lead when a Pee Wee Gardner layup with over 16 minutes to go made it 34-33 in the Eagles’ favor.
As it turned out, the Hawks would never hold a lead the rest of the game. The Eagles had a clear strategy and that was to attack with a very high volume of 3-point shots. Within the last 10 minutes, they made four successful shots from beyond the arc and were eight-of-22 from there overall.
Even more striking than American’s success beyond the arc was Lehigh’s failure at the free throw line. It made less than half of its free throws, converting on just seven-of-16.
“We seemed to play on our heels the whole time,” Kempton said. “And that maybe led to our inability at the foul line and also maybe our inability to defend. We were playing on our heels and being kind of passive and not aggressive like we normally are.”
Kempton had another solid offensive game. His 20 points and 11 rebounds meant that he had achieved his 14th double-double of the season. His father, former NBA player Tim Kempton, was there to see his son play.
However, not everyone was as successful as Kempton. Senior guard Corey Schaefer, sophomore guard Austin Price and Ross, all three of whom were starters, converted a combined five-of-21 field goals. The other two starters, Goldsborough and Kempton, were a combined 13-for-13.
For American, four of its five starters were juniors and seniors, so they brought back a lot of experience that they had from last year’s Patriot League Championship team. They were led by Jesse Reed, who played for all 40 minutes and scored 24 points.
“American forces you when you are down to really increase the tempo because they have the ability to work the basketball for an extended period of time, and shorten possessions in the game,” coach Brett Reed said.
With American’s win, they will move on to the Patriot League semifinals on Sunday and play at the second-seeded Colgate University. The other two winners of Thursday’s Patriot League games, top seed Bucknell University and fourth seed Lafayette College, will play against each other.
However, the loss marks the end of the season for Lehigh, unless they get an invitation to a postseason tournament. It means the end of the careers for the seniors: Schaefer, forward Conroy Baltimore and forward Stefan Cvrkalj.
“They left the legacy on the program,” Reed said. “They created the winning culture that was down from last year and kind of seemed to lack, and then they just created a new culture. They left their impact on this program and hopefully we can build off of that.”
They will hope to do that for the 2015-16 season, which is expected to have four returning starters.
Photography by Samantha Tomaszewski