The Lafayette men’s basketball team heads into the postseason tomorrow to face Bucknell after two victories over Lehigh last weekend.
The pair of wins gave the Leopards a weekend sweep of the Mountain Hawks, ending this season’s rivalry series with Lafayette victorious in three of the four games.
“I think there’s things you learn especially in a year like this, playing a few teams over and over again. You’ll see things that you missed one day, and you can look for them the next day,” said freshman forward Kyle Jenkins. “Sometimes they’ll know a play we run over and over again, but we can add another layer to it so they won’t expect it.”
Three players scored in double figures during Saturday’s game at Kirby Sports Center, which included a Senior Day ceremony to celebrate the graduating class.
Seniors Justin Jaworski, E.J. Stephens and Dylan Hastings were in the starting lineup, while Alex Petrie joined in virtually for the pregame ceremony.
More honors have since arrived for Jaworski and Stephens, who have produced the majority of the Lafayette offense this season.
Jaworski earned a coveted spot on the All-Patriot League First Team this week, after making the second and third teams in his junior and sophomore seasons, respectively. Stephens was named to the All-Patriot League Second Team, his first, and Jenkins made the All-Rookie Team.
On Saturday, Lafayette led the game for 36 minutes and held a four-point advantage at the half. The game was a back and forth affair, as both teams shot around 40 percent from the floor.
“I think we played really well defensively,” Jaworski said. “When you see somebody for the third and fourth time, you kind of know each other’s tendencies.”
Four minutes into the second half, Lafayette pushed the lead to 47-38 with Stephens hitting his 100th career three-pointer, on an assist by Hastings. Stephens notched 13 points on the afternoon, while fellow guard Jaworski put up 23.
Sophomore forward Neil Quinn scored 10 points behind a perfect 5-5 shooting night and contributed two buckets to a seven-point Lafayette run which spanned just 26 seconds in the second half. The run extended the Leopard lead to 57-48.
“Neil Quinn really just controlled the paint, and was dominating down low,” Jenkins said.
The Leopards held their biggest lead of 12 points with eight minutes left after Jaworski’s three from the top of the key.
Lehigh pushed back with a 9-0 run, bringing the score to a narrow 67-65 lead for Lafayette with 2:18 left.
Jaworski hit a series of important shots in the final two minutes, including a jumper at 1:36 and another with just 28 seconds left, sealing Lafayette’s victory after scoring seven of the team’s final nine points himself. Jaworski shot 8-17 from the floor and 4-5 at the free-throw line in a 75-69 win.
But Jaworski hasn’t just been getting it done on the court. This week, he was named the Patriot League Scholar-Athlete of the Year and placed on the Academic All-League team.
Sunday’s game also led to more league recognition for the Leopards. Jenkins was named the Rookie of the Week after hitting a career-high four three-pointers on a 6-of-7 shooting day from the field, as Lafayette emerged victorious 71-70.
“It’s a solo award, but really it’s a team award,” Jenkins said. “Having seniors on the team that are always there for questions helped me get better and better as the season went on.”
After a first half that saw eight lead changes, the game was knotted 22-22 with six minutes left before the intermission. Lafayette managed a 14-6 run that included five points from junior forward Tomas Verbinskis and a four-point play from sophomore forward Leo O’Boyle.
Lafayette was up 36-25 with 2:36 left in the half before Lehigh closed the gap to 41-35 at the intermission.
The two teams battled throughout the second half, with Lehigh pulling ahead 62-61 with 5:39 left in the game. It was the Mountain Hawks’ first lead since midway through the first half.
Jenkins hit his most important shot of the day with 2:43 left, connecting on a three-pointer to pull the Leopards back and front. The Mountain Hawks quickly answered with their own strike from distance to retake the lead, 70-69.
“In that second game Kyle Jenkins played really well for us,” Jaworski said. “He was really the offensive catalyst that kept us afloat for most of that game.”
Junior guard Tyrone Perry came up with a key defensive play with under a minute left in the game that gained Lafayette possession.
A couple of missed shots later, Jaworski had a final opportunity for a basket, and Lafayette needed two points to end with a win. Jaworski, coming off two screens, connected on a runner in the lane with 16 seconds left to secure the win for the Leopards.
The pressure might get to some players, but Jaworski was unfazed.
“At the end of the games I really like having the ball in my hands,” Jaworski said. “I like whether we win or lose to be on my shoulders, so I just wanted to step up for my team and make that shot.”
Jenkins finished the day with 16 points and 6 rebounds, while Quinn posted 13 points and seven rebounds. Perry and Stephens recorded 10 points apiece, while Stephens is now just five points shy of becoming the 47th player in Lafayette history to score 1,000 career points.
The Leopards won the Patriot League Central Division this year with a 9-5 record and will enter the playoffs as the No. 3 seed with a first-round bye. But the work is not finished just yet.
“We’re just trying to keep getting better every single day, but obviously the playoffs are a different animal,” Jaworski said. “Everybody’s going to be a little bit more intense and everything’s going to be a little bit faster, so the biggest thing is just trying to prepare ourselves mentally for that.”
Lafayette will host the No. 6 seed Bucknell tomorrow at 2 p.m. in Kirby Sports Center for the Patriot League Quarterfinals.