Courtesy of LehighSports.com
BETHLEHEM, Pa. – The Lehigh men’s basketball team opens a much-anticipated 2016-17 season on Friday when it travels to No. 7/8 Xavier to face the Musketeers. Opening tipoff at the Cintas Center is set for 7 p.m. and will be televised live on Fox College Sports Central. Friday will mark the first game between the two sides since squaring off in the 2012 NCAA Tournament, Round of 32. Xavier marks Lehigh’s highest-ranked opponent in the regular season since it faced No. 4 Villanova in 2005-06. Duke was No. 8 in both the Associated Press and Coaches Poll when the Mountain Hawks defeated the Blue Devils in the 2012 NCAA Tournament.
Led by two-time defending Patriot League Player of the Year Tim Kempton, the Mountain Hawks look to build off the momentum from the end of last season when they won 11 straight games heading into the league championship game. The core of the team returns, including three All-League honorees and an All-Rookie team member from last season.
Beyond Kempton, Lehigh also returns first team All-Patriot League honoree, junior Kahron Ross at point guard, while senior Austin Price was named to the third team and sophomore Kyle Leufroy was on the All-Rookie team. All four of them averaged double-figure points last season, led by Kempton’s 17.7 points and 9.5 boards per game. Devon Carter also returns to Lehigh for a fifth year as he is attending graduate school, while junior Brandon Alston comes back after missing the entire 2015-16 season due to injury. Price will face former high school teammate on Friday, Xavier’s Edmond Sumner; the two were teammates at Detroit Country Day School.
The Mountain Hawks enter the season as the preseason No. 1 team in the Patriot League, as determined by the league’s preseason poll. It marked the second straight season and third time in the last five seasons that Lehigh was predicted to win the league. Last season, the Mountain Hawks began the season 0-7 against a tough schedule, but bounced back to reach their third Patriot League Championship Game in the last seven years. Last season’s tough schedule featured five nonleague games against eventual NCAA Tournament teams, including Final Four participant Syracuse, No. 1 seed Virginia, No. 5 seed Purdue, Stony Brook and Yale.
Lehigh is eying its first season-opening win since 2008 as the Mountain Hawks continually challenge themselves against top competition in openers. Last season, Lehigh dropped a competitive 57-47 final at Syracuse. The year prior, the Mountain Hawks hung tough against eventual No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament Villanova, taking a 43-38 lead with 16:22 remaining in the second half and standing tied with as late as 11:08 on the clock. The Mountain Hawks will face Xavier as a Big East team for the first time in school history. In 2012, when the teams last played, Xavier was a member of the Atlantic 10. Lehigh’s last Big East opponent was two seasons ago when the Mountain Hawks earned a wire-to-wire 86-74 win at DePaul.
Xavier enters the season with its highest-ever preseason rankings in both the Associated Press and Coaches Polls, standing No. 7 and No. 8, respectively. The Musketeers are coming off a 2015-16 season which saw them finished 28-6 and earn a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Xavier’s top two scorers return in Trevon Bluiett and Sumner and who averaged 15.1 and 11.0 points, respectively. Sumner dished out 112 assists. Two of the team’s top forwards from last year graduated in James Farr and Jaylen Reynolds after averaging 10.7 points and 7.8 rebounds and 9.6 points and 6.8 boards per contest. Xavier shot 45.2 percent from the field last season and 36.3 percent from three-point range while grabbing 40.9 rebounds per contest.
Xavier is 2-0 against Lehigh in the all-time series, winning on Dec. 21, 2004 by a 69-63 final before topping the Mountain Hawks 70-59 in the third round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament. Lehigh jumped out to a double-digit lead in that game, but shot just 5-of-34 in the second half as the 10th seeded Musketeers earned the win over the 15th seeded Mountain Hawks to earn a trip to the Sweet 16.
Following Friday’s game, the Mountain Hawks head to Yale next Thursday (Nov. 17) for a 7 p.m. tipoff.
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Date: November 11, 2016
Opponent: Xavier Musketeers
Tip-off: 7:00 PM
Arena/Capacity: Cintas Center/10,250
Location: Cincinnati, Ohio
Lehigh’s Record: 0-0, 0-0 Patriot League
Xavier’s Record: 0-0, 0-0 Big East
Series: Xavier leads, 2-0
Radio: Live on ESPN Radio 1160, 1230 and 1320 AM and Lehighsports.com with Tom Fallon. Pregame coverage gets underway at 6:30 PM
Television: Fox College Sports Central
Internet Video: No Online Video
Behind Enemy Lines: Xavier Official Website
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