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Streaky Lehigh has hit a rough patch

January 7, 2015 Columns, Your Phil of Hoops No Comments

BOSTON – Saturday’s 75-56 loss at Boston University wasn’t that close for Lehigh. In fact, they scored the game’s last 17 points, so the final score is a little more respectable and quite deceptively so. But more important than the score is where this team is trending, and while it looks to be downward to the untrained eye, that may not be the case. Make no mistake: the Mountain Hawks have areas of real concern, as you might imagine.

“We definitely need to improve,” said head coach Brett Reed. “We have to defend the three-point line, it’s a basic element of today’s game in college basketball.”

You could sum this team up as simply a run-of-the-mill inexperienced team going through the expected inconsistency. After all, they’ve been streaky, having lost their first four games before winning their next four as part of a stretch where they won six of seven. The current two-game losing streak will be a bit tougher to stop, but it’s not like it can’t happen.

Lehigh had been a good defensive team when it came to guarding the three-point line until the last three games. But in those games, UMBC and Colgate each went 10-20 from three-point range, before BU seemingly couldn’t miss. The Terriers shot 14-25 from long range, setting a tone by going 8-14 in the first half. It’s clearly a turn for the worse.

Reed said the Mountain Hawks aren’t doing anything differently at the defensive end. They’re not trying different defenses or changing up. He chalks the struggles of late up to execution. Certainly, some of it could be relative inexperience, as this is a team with just one senior who plays big minutes. As concerning as the offense can be at times, the sudden slump defensively is more concerning.

“Not only is it defending the three-point line, but we’ve struggled defending people off the dribble, and we have to get back to the basics of defense and make sure that we’re in our proper positions and doing a good job of guarding the ball,” said Reed.

The Mountain Hawks are a team that at first glance should contend in the Patriot League, at least on personnel. They are hardly lacking talent, especially up front, where there is a lack of post players in the league. Sophomore Tim Kempton is almost easily the best big man in the league. Junior Justin Goldsborough is an athletic forward capable of putting up a double-double on almost any night, and Jesse Chuku is another talent up front, though he hasn’t lived up to his potential thus far. Austin Price and freshman Kahron Ross are talented guards, though both are symbolic of this team’s growing pains.

Because of that talent, this team is certainly capable of turning it around. The difficulty has been in finding an identity, as it’s not clear what this team is at this point other than perhaps a streaky team. But now that teams have found a weakness, and it’s been guarding the three-point line of late, it could become a problem. The Patriot League has a lot of perimeter-oriented offenses, so they’ll be facing plenty of teams that will try to shoot from long range.

As if that’s not enough, the offense has had some problems as well, especially shooting the ball. Price has not shot the ball nearly as well as he did last year, though he went 2-3 from deep against Boston University, so that might get him going again. Ross has been very good running the show for a freshman, but growing pains are going to be part of the process. While Kempton gave them offense for a stretch, he didn’t always take the best shots against the Terriers.

Kempton is hardly alone, though. At Boston University, the Mountain Hawks never got untracked offensively. Save for a stretch later in the first half, they seemed to move the ball well, but without a purpose. There was plenty of ball movement, but that didn’t lead to a lot of quality shots. From that, the big concern is that they slip out of what the coaching staff is trying to do. They have players who can try to do too much when the offense is struggling, so the concern is that they could lose confidence and not believe that better results can come as they continue working.

“Sometimes the harder you try, the worse the results are,” Reed said. “Just being reliant and continuing to progress from a team game is the most important thing, and not lose faith, not lose confidence when we make the extra passes and we make the proper plays and we don’t get the result. We just have to continue to try to do that as best we can.”

Lehigh also can’t lose confidence in their defensive game plan from the past three games. They have already proven they can defend the three-point line for a good stretch. This can prove to be an aberration, but it’s up to the Mountain Hawks to make it just that starting with Wednesday night’s contest at Army, which figures to be a tough one as the Black Knights had a good non-league showing.

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