Freshman guard Kyle Leufroy dribbles down the court at the Patriot League Tournament semifinal game against American University on Sunday, March 6, 2016. Lehigh defeated American 78-62. (Hallie Fuchs/B&W Staff)

Lehigh men’s basketball defeats American, moves on to championship


For the first time since the famous 2011-12 season, the Lehigh men’s basketball team is heading back to the finals of the Patriot League Tournament.

Lehigh (17-14, 13-5 Patriot) took a commanding lead early in its semifinal game with the help of hot starts from junior center Tim Kempton and junior guard Austin Price. Unlike the team’s previous game when it blew a 19-point lead, this time Lehigh held a large lead the whole game en route to 78-62 victory over American University Sunday at Stabler Arena.

“Against Navy, we gave up a couple of easy baskets, we started forcing a couple of shots, we then started wondering what has happening, what we were missing,” Lehigh coach Brett Reed said. “But I think the lesson learned, even in the last four to five minutes of that game, was ‘let’s do it together, let’s make sure that we execute.’”

The Mountain Hawks started off just about as dominant as possible, scoring 18 of the game’s first 20 points and 30 of the first 39. They already had the crowd cheering them on, but senior forward Jesse Chuku sent everyone to their feet with the first of his three blocks near the end of the first half.

“I feel like it’s my responsibility to take care of the rim,” Chuku said. “People shouldn’t be shooting easy layups when I’m on the court.”

Lehigh entered halftime with a 41-23 lead, shooting 56.7 percent from the floor as compared to just 30.8 percent for American.

After putting up a tough 1-for-11 shooting night last time out, Price bounced back by leading the team in scoring with 18 points and collecting five rebounds. Kempton also played well, picking up another double-double with 17 points and a game-high 10 rebounds.

Even with a couple of big performances, it was truly a team win for the Mountain Hawks. Nearly everyone got in on the action, with nine different players scoring and eight getting at least five points.

In addition to sending the team to its third Patriot League Championship game in the past seven seasons, the win was also the 11th straight for Lehigh, tying the record for longest winning streak in school history set in the 1925-26 season.

It was also Lehigh’s third consecutive win against American this season and improved the Mountain Hawks to 4-2 against them all-time in the Patriot League Tournament.

The other semifinal game took place earlier in the day, setting the stage for the championship matchup between Lehigh and the College of the Holy Cross. The Crusaders are seeded ninth in the tournament, but have proven themselves to be dangerous with wins against top seed Bucknell University on Thursday and Army West Point today.

“I could care less about the numbers in front of the names of the schools,” Reed said. “I know that it’s gonna be an absolute war, and we’re going to have to play great basketball to be crowned champions.”

While reaching the finals is an accomplishment in itself, the team isn’t satisfied with their performance just yet.

“No one’s remembered for making it to the championship game,” Kempton said. “You’re only remembered for winning it.”

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