The Lehigh men's basketball team huddles up before a game. Lehigh fell to Lafayette on Jan 3., splitting the weekend series. (Katie McNulty/B&W Staff)

After a rebuilding season, men’s basketball ready to compete

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While the Lehigh men’s basketball team finished the 2019-2020 season with an 11-21 record, the players said they learned a lot about themselves during the season and reflected positively on their improvements.

The team finished the Patriot League conference tournament just before the coronavirus pandemic suspended all NCAA sports. 

“I think we had a really great year,” said freshman guard Jake Betlow. “Our record might not reflect it, but we grew as a team and learned a lot about ourselves throughout the year.”

Fellow freshman guard Reed Fenton shared similar feelings. He said the team was playing its best basketball toward the end of the year. 

“We got better as a team throughout the season and, hopefully, (we) will carry that chemistry over to next year,” Fenton said.

Fenton and Betlow both got their first taste of Division I college basketball. They both said it was a memorable season, but some big wins stuck out that made the year more enjoyable.

Toward the end of conference play, the Mountain Hawks beat Boston University in overtime at home in Stabler Arena. Betlow said everyone stepped up for what was one of the team’s biggest wins all year. 

“Everyone did their job, and it was an exciting game,” Betlow said. “Looking back, we beat the conference champs, so no one can say we weren’t right there regardless of what our record said.” 

Assistant coach Noel Hightower agreed with Betlow, and said it was their most impressive win of the season.

He remembers the game as being a highly intense, physical and emotional contest.

“Everyone bought in and did their job for us to win,” Hightower said.

Fenton and Betlow said the upperclassmen — specifically senior guard Jordan Cohen — were great leaders who took them under their wing. 

Fenton said Cohen led by example and was the go-to guy when the team needed a bucket or a big play.

“He goes out there and inspires everyone to play their best,” Fenton said. “You get a sense of confidence playing with him. It was never about personal accolades to him, (rather) it was always about the team. Jordan (Cohen) had some games where he was absolutely dominant.”

Hightower agreed, explaining how Cohen was phenomenal all year.

“He made a lot of things that don’t show up in the stat book happen, was a great leader and set the tone,” Hightower said. “It started with him.”

The men’s season came to an end in the quarterfinals of the Patriot League Tournament on March 5 in a loss to No. 1 seeded Colgate

Hightower said there was a lot of energy and emotion in the gym during that game.

He gave credit to Colgate head coach Matt Langel and his staff for getting his guys ready to play. 

“We got off to a slower start,” Hightower said. “We crawled back, giving us a shot to compete and win the game. It came down to the last five minutes of the game, where they made more plays than us down the stretch. I give all the credit to them.” 

Betlow said coming up just short the first time against Colgate earlier in the season fueled the team’s fire when the two teams met again. 

He said losing in the quarterfinals was tough for the seniors and leaves a bad taste in their mouths heading into the fall.

Due to the coronavirus, the Lehigh men’s basketball team, along with the rest of Lehigh’s students, are home. However, it is not stopping the team from keeping up with each other. 

Hightower and the rest of the staff prioritize the players’ and their families’ safety and health but want them to stay in contact as they embark on a long offseason.

“We encourage our guys to FaceTime, text and use social media with one another because it is easy to isolate yourself in this time,” Hightower said. “We have team meetings on Zoom once a week to stay connected.” 

Even though the players might not be together geographically, the Lehigh men’s basketball team will look to make a jump in the standings this coming season. 

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