Men’s Basketball upsets Lehigh in quarterfinals, win 68-62
The Patriot League Tournament is a wondrous time of the year, where regular season records are left at the door and the only thing that matters is the game being played right now. In a tense battle of willpower and determination, the No. 6 seeded AU Eagles upset No. 3 seeded Lehigh Mountain Hawks, 68-62.
After ending the Mountain Hawks’ season, the Eagles will continue on their voyage to defend their Patriot League championship, March 8, by way of Hamilton, New York, to face off against No. 2 seed Colgate Raiders.
In a game where the importance of every possession is magnified, the Eagles veteran core proved calm under pressure. Junior guard Jesse Reed, delivering one of his best performances of the season, led all scorers with 24 points, snatched five rebounds and nabbed a season high three steals. Junior guard, playing center, Marko Vasic recorded his first career double-double, finishing the game with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Senior Darius “Pee-Wee” Gardner commanded the floor collecting 10 assists throughout the game.
"I thought our guys played well, stuck with it and played tough," head coach Mike Brennan told aueagles.com "We came out sluggish in the first half but turned it around in the second and Jesse was definitely more aggressive for us down the stretch."
The Eagles started the game in the hole, down seven, 11-4. After a string of steals and pair of 3-pointers from senior guard John Schoof and sophomore guard Jalen Rhea, the Eagles were within one.
AU had to scratch and claw their way into stay within striking distance of Lehigh. Throughout the first half whenever AU was able get within one or two points of Lehigh, the Mountain Hawks would stretch their lead back to four or five points. However, time and time again the Eagles stayed on pace, and were able to go into halftime down 27-23.
The Eagles looked for the three-point shot 10 times in the first half, making three. Schoof went 2-for-4 from beyond the arc in the first half , Reed 0-for-3 and Rhea 1-for-1, while sophomore guard Charlie Jones and Gardner both went 0-for-1. The missed three-pointers and failed layups led to an underwhelming 38.5 shooting percentage in the first, compared to Lehigh’s 50 shooting percentage.
The Mountain Hawks had a chance to go into the locker rooms with a larger lead but could not convert a single free throw shot of the five taken.
Pee-Wee opened up the second half with a three-pointer followed by a steal. The Eagles, after spacing out the floor all of the first half, starting to convert on head coach Mike Brennan’s hallmark Princeton offense back-door layups. Ten of the first 14 Eagle points of the second half came on layups. Vasic was able to drive inside and land three layups over the span of a minute.
With 16:26 to go in the game, the Eagles had their first lead of the game, off a Pee-Wee layup. AU would not relinquish that lead for the rest of the game.
Lehigh’s newly crowned Patriot League Player of the Year Tim Kempton and company tried to rally with two minutes to go. The Mountain Hawks would get as close as down three points 59-56 with 0:57 to play. However, Reed, Jones, and Rhea made free-throws in the final seconds of the game and eliminated the Mountain Hawks from championship contention.
The Eagles finished the game 24-for-51 (47.1 percent), 8-for-22 (36.4 percent) from three-point range and 12-for-17 from the free throw line. The Mountain Hawks finished the game 26-for-48 (54.2 percent), however lacked a three-point shooter, going 3-for-14 and failed to take advantage of free throws, going 7-for-16. Lehigh turned the ball over 14 times, leading to 18 AU points.