Freshman guard Kyle Leufroy drives to the basket towards two Navy players in a game on Thursday, March 3, 2016. Lehigh won 65-63 against Navy after a close and high intensity game. (Hallie Fuchs/B&W Staff)

Hawks survive wild finish, will host American in semifinals


Cemented on the far wall of Stabler Arena is a men’s basketball tournament championship banner, commemorating the 2004, 2010 and 2012 teams that earned a bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Tonight, for the first time this season, that banner was routinely blocked by a student section who rose and fell with the tempo of the game. Much in part to their efforts, the banner behind them is now a mere two games away from having “2016” being imprinted on it with white font against the brown frame.

Lehigh ended Navy’s season Thursday night in a quarterfinal game 65-63, despite squandering a 19-point second-half lead. When the offense became stagnant and the defense turned lapse during a 22-2 Midshipmen run in the second half, it was the crowd that helped keep the Mountain Hawks from the offseason.

“We rode (the) emotional energy,” Lehigh coach Brett Reed said. “I thought the atmosphere in this building was terrific. I thought our student section was fantastic and they really fueled us.”

Trailing by 19 early in the second half, the Midshipmen turned to their star, Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year and senior center Will Kelly. Kelly’s 12 points, five rebounds, four assists and five blocks helped motor his team to a tie game with 55 seconds left remaining. It was the two-time reigning league player of the year, junior center Tim Kempton, however, who lifted his team to play another day.

Kempton tallied 22 points and 17 rebounds in the contest, both game-highs. Kempton and Kelly battled on the opposing blocks for the entirety of the contest, each player trading scores and stops for stretches of the second half. During Kelly’s run at dominating the paint, Kempton was able to subside his brief slump and carry his team – just like how he has done all season.

“I thought I was never going to get over the hump,” Kempton said. “We were cruising at one point – all smiles and joy – just when you think it’s going well, Navy likes to ruin the party. They do a good job of that.”

To help get over that lull in the final 20 minutes was freshman guard Kyle Leufroy, who notched 17 points in his first career tournament game. Leufroy credited his teammates with recognizing his hot hand.

“I just try to find the open spots,” Leufroy said. “I think Tim, Kahron (Ross), Austin (Price) – everybody does a good job of finding me.”

The unselfishness Leufroy echoed after the game was not lost on Reed either, as he praised the ball movement on one of his team’s final possessions that helped saved the team’s season.

With the game tied at 57, Ross drove to his left and found Price in the corner, who then rifled a pass to Kempton. With a quick pivot and absorbing contact, Kempton laid the ball up and in with a foul to give the Hawks a 60-57 lead with 40.6 seconds left. For Reed, the season-saving play was a microcosm of his team’s leadership.

“Three players who have experience for us,” Reed said. “Three players touching the ball. Three players making the play together.”

With American University’s win over Boston University Thursday night, the Eagles will travel to Bethlehem to face Lehigh on Sunday at 2 p.m. Bucknell University, the tournament’s No. 1 seed, fell in double overtime on Thursday to College of the Holy Cross, surrendering home court advantage to Lehigh.

With a win over American on Sunday afternoon, a championship could be clinched at home on Wednesday night and a new year embedded on the championship banner high above the court in Bethlehem.

Comment policy

Comments posted to The Brown and White website are reviewed by a moderator before being approved. Incendiary speech or harassing language, including comments targeted at individuals, may be deemed unacceptable and not published. Spam and other soliciting will also be declined.

The Brown and White also reserves the right to not publish entirely anonymous comments.

Leave A Reply