Posted: March 16, 2004
Dayton, OH – Lehigh fell to Florida A&M in the NCAA Opening Round game on Tuesday evening at Dayton Arena by a score of 72-57 in front of 7,808 to end the Mountain Hawks magical run in 2003-04. Lehigh could not overcome the speed and defensive pressure applied by the Rattlers, and coupled with 29 percent field goal percentage, Lehigh wound up on the losing end. The Mountain Hawks finish up their season at 20-11, while the Rattlers improve to 15-16 and move on to play Kentucky in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Columbus, OH on Friday evening.
Lehigh was pressured right from the opening tip by Florida A&M and quickly fell behind 7-0 just two minutes into the contest. However, as this team has done all year, it fought back from adversity and was able to pull ahead at 10-9 at the 13:07 mark of the half on a three-pointer by freshman Jose Olivero. The two teams then went back and forth, exchanging blows for the rest of the opening 20 minutes, with neither team able to pull ahead by more than seven points.
The Rattlers were in front 39-33 at the half and had accomplished what they set out to do, which was force the tempo and shoot countless three-pointers. Terrence Woods, who was questionable before the game with a thigh injury connected on two shots from beyond the arc en route to 10 points in the opening stanza. The Mountain Hawks received eight points each from senior Austen Rowland and sophomore Kevin Tempest. Tempest, who really came on towards the end of the season hit two of three shots from the field, including two pretty jumpers from downtown.
The second half started out much the same for Lehigh as Florida A&M continually pressured the Mountain Hawk guards and pounded Lehigh on the glass using its athleticism. The Rattlers eventually pushed the lead all the way up to 17 points at the 7:25 mark on a three-pointer from Woods, who came into the game averaging four made three-point shots per contest, which led the NCAA.
Lehigh was led in scoring by Tempest who finished with a career-high tying 13 points on the evening. Tempest was the only Mountain Hawk to hit for double figures, which was only the second time this season that Lehigh placed just one player over ten points. Rowland struggled with his shot all night and was held scoreless in the second half as he finished with eight points.
Florida A&M was led by Woods and his five three-point bombs en route to a game-high 21 points. DeMarcus Wilkins and Michael Harper also hit for double digits with 12 and 11 respectively. Harper pulled down a game-high 12 boards as well for the double-double. Lehigh hit just 12 percent of its three-point shots, and launched a season high 30 of them for the game.
Despite the setback, this Lehigh team will go down as one of the best in school history. The preseason fifth place pick in the Patriot League, the 2003-04 Mountain Hawks won both the Patriot League regular season and tournament crowns for the first time in school history. Head Coach Billy Taylor was named Patriot League Coach of the Year for the second consecutive season and Rowland was named Player of the Year, a first in Lehigh history.
The Mountain Hawks were obviously upset after the game, but should be remembered for the body of work they put together this season. It was a magical ride from beginning until end.