Sr. G Austen Rowland scored a team-high 14 points and earned Tournament MVP recognition after leading the Mountain Hawks to their first Patriot League men's basketball title and and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament
March 14, 2004
By MIKE GARAFOLO
Associated Press Writer
BETHLEHEM, Pa. (AP) - Jose Olivero hit a leaning jumper with 3.9 seconds remaining and Lehigh earned an NCAA tournament bid with a 59-57 victory over American in the Patriot League title game on Sunday.
Tournament MVP Austen Rowland had 14 points and Jason Mgebroff added 13 for the Mountain Hawks (20-10), who won the tournament for the first time. The NCAA tournament bid is Lehigh's first since 1988 and only third ever.
Andres Rodriguez had 16 points for the Eagles (18-13), who lost in the championship game for the third consecutive year.
Lehigh led by six points with 1:22 remaining before Rodriguez knocked down a 3-pointer and made a layup and a free throw on the next possession to tie the game. Olivero then dribbled around Jason Thomas and pulled up for the game-winning shot. A desperation halfcourt heave by the Eagles' Matej Cresnik sailed wide left.
Lehigh swept the three-game season series and had the second-most victories in its history. The only other year Lehigh reached the 20-win plateau was in 1988, when the Mountain Hawks posted a 21-10 overall mark. LU's only previous trips to the NCAA Tournament in 1985 and 1988, where they lost in the first round both times.
American led by as many as seven points early on, but Lehigh overcame a slow start and the game was closely contested the rest of the way.
The lead changed hands five times over the final 2:27 of the first half, the last of which came when Mgebroff took a pass from Rowland and finished the play with a layup that put the Mountain Hawks ahead 30-29 at halftime.
There were four ties and four lead changes after that, but Lehigh took control with 8:25 remaining on a layup that Ra Tiah banked high off the glass. The basket broke a 43-all tie and started a 9-2 run that ended with a wide-open 3-pointer by Olivero.
Rodriguez scored the Eagles' last 10 points to tie the game.
In addition to Rowland, the All-Tournament team included Mgebroff, Rodriguez and Jernavis Draughn from American, Bucknell's Charles Lee and Colgate's Howard Blue.