The Boston University men’s basketball team saw their regular season come to an end Sunday afternoon with a heartbreaking 91-88 double overtime loss to the Lehigh Mountain Hawks in the semifinals of the Patriot League tournament.
The second-seeded Terriers (18-14) used a 16-point second half comeback to force overtime but Lehigh senior standout Tim Kempton scored 31 points including a go-ahead three in the second overtime to help the Mountain Hawks advance to the title game.
It was a back-and-forth affair, especially in the overtime periods, that produced an instant classic at Case Gym, despite the Terriers coming out on the short end.
“Just a great, great game,” Terrier head coach Joe Jones said. “I’m really proud of our effort and big plays, especially coming back.”
BU struggled in the first half shooting just 8-30 FG (26.7%) while also committing 10 turnovers.
Lehigh (20-11) on the other hand came out as the aggressor and used their potent offensive attack to take a 37-26 lead at the break.
Jones’ squad began the second half on a 7-0 run to provide hope but then the Mountain Hawks answered right back.
Despite Kempton picking up his 4th foul in the early stages of the second half, BU could not take advantage right away. An Austin Price straightaway three-pointer gave the visitors a 53-37 lead with a little over ten minutes remaining.
But with Kempton still on the bench, the Terriers responded with a 10-0 burst of their own, capitalized by an Eric Johnson three-pointer.
Trailing by six with under three minutes, and with Kempton back in the game, junior Cedric Hankerson completed a four-point play to cut the lead to two.
The teams traded buckets in the final minutes and a Justin Alston layup with 12 seconds left tied the game at 65 and Kempton missed a short fadeaway jumper at the buzzer to send the game into overtime.
In overtime, the fifth-year senior Alston (20 points) dominated in the paint but picked up three fouls to foul out.
His replacement, freshman Max Mahoney made a free-throw to extend the BU lead to 75-73 with 24 seconds left but Kempton finished off a layup on the other end to tie the game with 6 tics remaining.
Kempton then blocked Kyle Foreman’s layup attempt at the buzzer to force a second overtime.
In double OT, Kempton knocked down a right-corner three to break the deadlock tie and then Kyle Leufroy made four consecutive free throws to give Lehigh a 89-82 lead.
However, the Terriers had one last hooray in them. Eric Johnson and Eric Fanning (22 points, 11 rebounds) made two 3-pointers in between a pair of Lehigh free throws, but the Mountain Hawks turned the ball over with 1.2 seconds left.
Trailing by 3, Johnson attempted a deep 3-pointer at the buzzer, and despite being knocked to the ground, missed the shot and was not rewarded with a whistle, giving Lehigh the dramatic 91-88 win.
“They just made more big plays,” Jones said. “They executed down the stretch and we didn’t make enough plays. Someone had to lose and too bad it was us.”
The story of the game was Kempton, the two-time POY, not committing his fifth-foul in his 17 minutes of play down the stretch.
There were many sequences in which the crowd and BU bench thought Kempton picked up his fifth personal, including a play where he knocked down Mahoney but was called a block.
Kempton’s big plays down the stretch propelled the preseason favorites to the title game for the second consecutive year. He also added 13 rebounds, 6 blocks, and surpassed 2,000 points for his collegiate career.
Despite the gut-wrenching loss, Jones said he was proud of his team’s fight and warrior-like mentality.
Lehigh will advance to play the top-seeded Bucknell Bison in the championshing game on Wednesday night in Lewisburg, with a trip to the NCAA Tournament on the line.
Meanwhile, the Terriers will take the rest of spring break to regroup from the defeat and will evaluate a postseason bid to either the CBI or CIT Tournaments next week.