Not often do you see the reigning Patriot League Player of the Year, Lehigh junior center Tim Kempton, coming off the bench.
Not often do you see the 6-foot-10, skilled big man sporting a headband and goggles.
Not often do you see Kempton driving baseline and throwing down a reverse dunk in a game.
“My teammates were making fun of me (because of the dunk),” Kempton said. “Something just clicked. It’s more of a mentality than anything else.”
Kempton’s energy and passion was on full display Sunday in the Mountain Hawks’ 73-61 victory against arch-rival Lafayette.
Kempton was playing with a headband and glasses to cover up a scratched cornea, suffered in a recent game against College of the Holy Cross. Despite the new inconvenient accessories, the Scottsdale, Arizona, native tallied 16 points and 15 rebounds off the bench to lead Lehigh (13-14, 11-5 Patriot) to its seventh straight Patriot League win.
“I don’t like wearing them, so I try taking them off as much as possible,” Kempton said. “They fog up a lot. They’re not awful, but as a player I don’t like playing with them.”
The performance marked Kempton’s fourth double-double in the past five games. Kempton has scored in double figures in 22 of the 24 games he’s played this year.
“He’s efficient and scores from the inside, he’s a threat from the perimeter, and tonight, he rebounded the basketball,” coach Brett Reed said. “You’re talking about an excellent player who’s a threat to score every night.”
For only the third time in his career, Kempton came off the bench due to Reed starting four seniors on Senior Day. One minute and 58 seconds into the game, Lehigh had fallen into a 6-2 hole. Before it got out of hand, Reed inserted his big guns and usual starters, junior guard Austin Price, freshman guard Kyle Leufroy and Kempton into the game.
Despite all these abnormal conditions, the junior had another memorable performance. He immediately anchored Lehigh’s turnaround, scoring six points to give Lehigh an 18-11 lead.
“It definitely is different,” Kempton said. “It’s not something I’m used to, but (Reed) tends to do it every Senior Day. It’s just something that you have to adapt to.”
With 12:51 left in the first half, Kempton surrendered his body and dove head-first for a loose ball, collected it and quickly tossed it to his one his teammates to keep possession. About six minutes later, another ball was loose and looked as if it was headed out of bounds to Lafayette, but out of nowhere Kempton chased it down and threw the ball back in play as his momentum took him 20 feet off the court to save another Lehigh possession. The bench and crowd erupted in approval of his effort while his teammates ran to him to praise him.
Kempton’s energy seemed to be contagious as Lehigh players expressed plenty of emotion throughout the game. Lafayette was on the cusp of a gritty comeback, but it was quickly ended by a dunk by senior forward Jesse Chuku with 1:35 left in regulation to give Lehigh a 68-60 lead. As all of the players on the bench jumped out their seats, Price ran down court pumping his arms while the season-high crowd of 1,949 released a cheer.
Kempton is averaging 17.3 points per game and 8.9 rebounds per game this year.