Senior Tim Kempton keeps the ball out of the hands of Holy Cross player Eric Green during the Patriot League Championship game on Wednesday, March 9, in Stabler Arena. Lehigh lost to Xavier in its season opener, 84-81. (Erik Thomas/B&W Photo)

Lehigh men’s basketball nearly pulls off upset against No. 7 Xavier, falls 84-81

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With 17.7 seconds left in the game, the Lehigh men’s basketball found itself down three points to No. 7 Xavier University with possession. The last possession evoked shades of the last year’s Patriot League championship game as the Mountain Hawks missed two potential game-tying threes and fell short 84-81 in their season opener at the Cintas Center.

Senior big man Tim Kempton led the way with 25 points on 9 for 16 shooting to go along with seven rebounds. Junior point guard Kahron Ross added a game-high 12 assists while backcourt mate senior Austin Price chipped in 11 points including a couple of big 3-pointers late in the game.

The Mountain Hawks exhibited their newfound depth as the eight different players scored at least five points in the game. Freshmen Pat Andree and Jordan Cohen along with redshirt sophomore Matt Holba combined for 23 points in their debuts in brown and white. After missing all of last year with a torn ACL, redshirt junior Brandon Alston notched nine points in the near upset.

After falling behind 16-4, Lehigh quickly picked up its play and started to chip away at the Xavier lead to eventually cut it to 27-21. The team started to trade blows as the Mountain Hawks capped off an 8-0 run after a Holba layup to cut the deficit to 42-40. After the Musketeers answered with a 6-0 run, Cohen connected from three before the clock expired to trim the score to 48-43 going into halftime.

Lehigh continued to fight back coming of out of the break. The Lehigh defense caused multiple turnovers, which led to opportunities on the other end of the floor. The Mountain Hawks capitalized and eventually took the lead at the 12-minute mark when sophomore Kyle Leufroy hit a corner three to give Lehigh a 58-57 lead. The lead didn’t last long as the Musketeers responded with a three of their own and went on a 13-5 run to take a 73-63 lead with seven minutes left in regulation.

Lehigh refused to relent and behind the play of their seniors Price and Kempton, they fought back to make it a 84-81 game with 20 seconds left in the game. With Xavier in possesion of the ball, Ross stepped in front of Xavier guard Trevon Bluiett and drew an offensive foul to give Lehigh back the ball with 17.7 seconds left. Out of a timeout, Ross missed a deep three then Price corralled the offensive rebound but failed to get off a good look and Lehigh fell to 0-1 on the year.

The Mountain Hawks will return to the court on Thursday to battle against Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.

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