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Patriot Finals Preview

March 11, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments

Patriot League Finals Preview

Preview by Steve Sheridan

No. 1 Lehigh vs. No. 2 American
Despite all the parity that has prevailed during this Patriot League season, in the end it comes down to number one against number two. The two teams come in on different terms, as Lehigh is competing in its first-ever league championship game while American has now appeared in three straight title games.

For Lehigh, this game is the culmination of all the hard work put forth by Patriot League Coach of the Year Billy Taylor, who in two years has turned around a moribund program into on of the elite teams in the Patriot League. Against Bucknell, the Mountain Hawks showed that they can win a game with defense as well as offense, holding the Bison to under 32 percent shooting in a 60-45 victory. The team also proved that it was more than just Austen Rowland and Jason Mgebroff, as Jose Olivero and bench-player Kevin Tempest displayed that the Mountain Hawks have many ways to beat you. Rowland, however, is still very dangerous on the floor for Lehigh, as the Patriot League Player of the Year and points leader is never afraid to hoist up a shot.

American, on the other hand, is becoming a staple near the top of the Patriot League. This year’s squad may be the best yet, as the team has reeled off six straight wins for the first time since the 1989-90 season. Like the Mountain Hawks, the Eagles also have many ways to beat you, led by Patriot League Freshman of the Year Andre Ingram, despite the fact that he was held to just five points and one field goal in the team’s 65-55 semifinal win over Colgate. Andres Rodriguez also is able to beat you, either with his shooting or with his dishing, as the Patriot League’s assist leader is never afraid to hand the ball off to his willing teammates. Jernavis Draughn is also capable of taking over a game on the glass, providing a steady presence down low for head coach Jeff Jones and his team.

Lehigh swept the season series against American this year, winning an overtime struggle on the Eagles’ home court and running away with a win on their home court later in the season. Rowland and Olivero were the two main offensive forces in the two Mountain Hawk wins, and so the Eagles will be sure to keep a very careful eye on those two players come game time.

In a game of this magnitude, anything goes. However, the home-court advantage that Lehigh will have could be the difference between two very evenly matched teams. Stabler Arena will be sure to be raucous on Saturday afternoon, and I believe that that intense atmosphere will push the top-seeded Mountain Hawks over the top and into the NCAA Tournament for the first time.

Prediction: In a back-and-forth affair, Lehigh goes dancing with a 64-56 win.

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