This was supposed to be a building year. Instead, the Lehigh men’s basketball program may be gearing up for a return to its days of Patriot League dominance.
With one game remaining (tonight at UMBC) before they tip-off their Patriot League slate against Colgate on New Year’s Eve, the Mountain Hawks currently stand at 5-5, a solid start to the season on paper, no doubt, but hardly something that jumps off the page.
But look a bit closer, and the team starts to look more impressive. After opening the season with four straight losses, the Mountain Hawks have won five of their last six games. Two of those wins have been on the road against power conference schools; first knocking off DePaul, 86-74, the day before Thanksgiving to start a four-game win streak.
Then last week the team went out west and won the ultimate gut-check game: an 84-81 triple-overtime thriller at Arizona State.
“It is pretty significant for our team to accomplish two wins against major conference schools, both in DePaul and Arizona State,” said Lehigh head coach Dr. Brett Reed. “I think it is a validation to our players of what it can look like if we’re fully engaged, make the attempt to defend at a high level, and just have the type of commitment we’re looking for as a program. I think those are all positive steps for us that we can come back to the rest of the year and be a constant source of reminder, what our team is capable of.”
While wins over big conferences jump out at fans, Reed feels that Lehigh’s games against lesser known opponents are as much a testament to his team’s ability as their games against opponents with household names.
“A win against even a St. Francis (PA) is more validated with their win over Rutgers and Duquesne,” said Reed. “Columbia gave Kentucky one of their best games of the season thus far, and even Quinnipiac just beat Oregon St.”
According to Reed, the key to this current Lehigh team is its youth.
Last year’s Patriot League Rookie of the Year, 6’11” sophomore center Tim Kempton, has been Reed’s biggest producer this season, pacing the Mountain Hawks with 12.9 points and 8.1 rebounds per game.
“Tim is really a backbone for our program,” said Reed. “We’re gonna’ count heavily on his talent, and his ability to both contribute on the glass, and offensively for our program.”
Kempton started off the season red-hot, recording double-doubles in four of the team’s first five games, highlighted by a 19-point, 13-rebound performance during the team’s 78-74 loss to Rider.
However, with the exception of the team’s recent win against Arizona State, Kempton’s production has taken a hit, primarily because of foul trouble. Despite Kempton’s recent struggles, Reed is confident the center will bounce back with ease.
“Over the course of the last two-and-a-half weeks, he’s been a little less consistent as far as performance,” said Reed. “But he has demonstrated talent, and he’s been a person we’ve relied on heavily over the course of his early career. And hopefully, he can continue to contribute at a high level and solidify our frontcourt.”
At the moment, the top five players for minutes played on Reed’s squad are Kempton, freshman guard Kharon Ross, sophomore guard Austin Price, junior forward Justin Goldsborough, and senior guard Corey Schaefer. With such an inexperienced group on the court, with the exception of Schaefer, getting them to play at a high enough level to succeed night in and night out is the key for Reed and his team.
“At this stage, I’m really harping on consistency,” said Reed. “We need to see that translate into a very high level. With this much youth as we’re relying upon, getting our guys to really be committed to the basics and doing those basic things well all the time will be the turnkey to having a successful season.”