Posted: March 14, 2004
Bethlehem, PA – Lehigh made its reputation all season of coming through in the clutch. Sunday was no different, as Jose Olivero hit a runner in the lane with 3.8 seconds left to give the Mountain Hawks a 59-57 victory and berth in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1988. In a very close game, Lehigh led by six with 1:21 left to play, but heady play by American’s point guard Andres Rodriguez tied the game at 57-57 with 21 seconds to play.
The Mountain Hawks brought the ball down, and Olivero drove into the lane for the winning shot to give Lehigh their first Patriot League Tournament title in school history.
In the first half, Lehigh struggled offensively, turning the ball over six times and shooting only 37% from the field. American couldn’t capitalize though, and Lehigh took a 30-29 lead into the break, thanks to 11 points from Jason Mgebroff and 8 from Kyle Neptune.
American got back into in the second half, taking a 39-36 lead on a jumper by Matej Cresnik at the mark. But Lehigh came right back, as Neptune hit a three and Dayne Mickelson hit a layup to give the Mountain Hawks a 43-41 lead. They would never trail again.
The game appeared to be in hand when Olivero hit a three to make the score 52-45 with 5:21 left to play, but American showed why they tied for the regular season title, coming all the way back to tie the game before Olivero’s shot at the end. American had a chance at the buzzer, but Cresnik’s desperation three feel short as the Lehigh fans stormed onto the court.
Patriot League Player of the Year Austen Rowland led the team with 14 points on the afternoon, and Mgebroff ended up with 13. Rodriguez led the Eagles with 16 points.
Rowland was named Tournament MVP for his efforts, and Mgebroff joined him on the All-Tournament team. Rodriguez and Jernavis Draughn represented American (18-13), while Charles Lee of Bucknell and Mark Linebaugh of Colgate rounded out the selections.
Lehigh will wait until the NCAA Tournament selection show at on Sunday to find out where they will head next.