By Eric Goldwein
[Editor’s Note: Eric Goldwein is Sports Editor for The Lafayette]
The journey wasn’t smooth, by any means, but the Lafayette Leopards (13-18) are right back where they were a season ago when they lost to the Lehigh Mountain Hawks in the Patriot League Championship 74-59.
With four starters returning, including first-team All-Patriot League forward Jared Mintz ’11, the Leopards came into the season with championship aspirations. Predicted to finish third in this year’s preseason PL polls, Lafayette hopes to do what last year’s team could not.
The regular season did not go as planned, with early season injuries and inconsistency leading to a frustrating start. Lafayette ended the regular season with a disappointing record, winning less than half of their Patriot League games.
The Leopards picked up their play as the season progressed, but heartbreaking losses against top-tier Patriot League opponents kept Lafayette towards the bottom of the Patriot League standings.
Against Lehigh on the road, the Leopards lost in the final seconds after a pair of costly late game turnovers and a questionable foul call. Against the Bison at home, Lafayette had an impressive comeback but the team fell short in the 74-69 overtime loss. Playing for home court in the season finale against American, Lafayette lost a double-overtime heartbreaker 95-92.
Despite heading into the playoffs as the No. 6 seed, Lafayette has enjoyed playing spoiler. In the quarterfinals, the Leopards defeated no. 3 Holy Cross 77-70 in a tight matchup.
Last Saturday, the Leopards advanced to the finals with a thrilling double-overtime victory in American, becoming the first PL team to win a semifinals matchup on the road since 1995. A game tying three-pointer from forward Ryan Willen ’12 sent the game into overtime. In the second overtime period, Lafayette trailed by as much as six, but a last-second three-pointer by Jim Mower ’12 gave the Leopards the 73-71 victory.
Mintz leads the Leopards in scoring and rebounding. Darion Benbow ’11 joins Mintz in the front court while Mower, Tony Johnson ’13 and Rob Delaney ’12 will start at the guard positions. Johnson leads the team in assists and steals and has developed into one of the team’s top scorers. Willen, the team’s third leading scorer, comes off the bench as the sixth man. Forward Levi Giese ’12 backs up Mintz and is the team’s leading shot-blocker. Lafayette relies on the three-point shot with Mower leading the charge from beyond the arc.