Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Thursday, November 15, 2018

Men’s basketball headed to NCAA Tournament after routing BU

Men’s basketball headed to NCAA Tournament after routing BU

Darius Gardner led the Eagles with 18 points against BU in the Eagles Patriot League Championship Game victory

The Eagles’ victory 55-36 victory over Boston University in the Patriot League Championship Game, which sends AU to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2008-2009 season, may come as a shock to those outside of AU.

Coming off of their worst season in the Patriot League, a new coach and no players named to the preseason All-Patriot League team, expectations were low. So low that a poll predicted the Eagles would finish ninth, second to last, in the conference.

“The year before wasn’t up to AU standards,” junior guard and Tournament MVP Darius Gardner said about the team. “As coach said, get[ting] better each day was our goal this year.”

The predictions proved to be inaccurate as AU finished second in the conference standings, including an 10-game winning streak to open conference play. Mike Brennan was named coach of the year, and three Eagles were named to one of the three All-Patriot League teams.

“We had great leadership all year,” Brennan said. “I’m proud of these guys and they put up with me all year, but they deserve this.”

AU won the Patriot League tournament with an efficient offense (first in the conference in field goal percentage) and defense (the number one scoring unit in the Patriot League). The Eagles finished the game shooting 55 percent from the field and held BU to a season-low 36 points in the most important game of the Patriot League season.

BU’s 36 points was the lowest point total in the Patriot League Championship game since the 2008 game, where Colgate University lost to AU 52-46.

The Terriers previous low for the current season was 53 points against Bucknell University, and BU came off two consecutive 91-point games in the Patriot League Tournament.

In the first half, The Eagles’ defense held the Terriers, who entered the game with the No. 1 scoring offense in the conference, to just 6-25 from the field.

With 8:24 remaining in the half, Gardner found his scoring stroke, leading both teams with 12 points at the break, after senior center Tony Wroblicky, who was named First team All-Patriot League, picked up his second foul and was subbed for sophomore center Zach Elcano.

Gardner helped to extend AU’s lead late, scoring the final eight points of the half to give the Eagles a six-point cushion entering the break 24-16.

Wroblicky scored the Eagles first six coming out of the break to give the Eagles a double-digit lead for the first time at 16:39 mark. Brennan opted to keep Wroblicky in the game after he picked up his third foul with 13:58 left in the second half.

Despite the Eagles increasing its lead, the Terriers kept pace with Eagles as a layup from D.J. Irving made it a nine-point game with 10:07 left in the game. Irving, the Terriers second-leading scorer on the season, was held to just 1-10 on the night.

The Eagles held a double-digit lead for the remainder of the game after sophomore guard Jesse Reed split a pair of free throws with 9:01 remaining in the half.

AU continued to add to the gap and led by 21 points in the last minute of the game when Gardner capped off his game high 18-point performance with a pair of free throws.

Throughout the game, the Eagles were able to shut down First team All-Patriot League and All-Tournament selection Maurice Watson who came off a Patriot League record of 17 assists in BU’s game against Army in the Patriot League Semifinals.

“It just took a group effort, ” Brennan said of the plan to stop Watson. “Just five guys making work, making everybody work for everything they got.”

Watson was held to a modest 11 points and just five assists. Dom Morris posted the second-highest point count for the Terriers with 10. In all, BU shot just 37 percent from the field.

In addition to Gardner, Wroblicky also posted double-digit points with fifteen. Reed scored all of his nine points in the second half of the game, similar to his performance against Holy Cross where Reed tallied 14 of 16 in the second half.

Following the game, Wroblicky and Gardner were named to the All-Tournament team, and Gardner took home the Tournament MVP award, marking the first time an Eagle won the award since the 2008-2009 season when Garrison Carr won the award back-to-back.

The game was all Brennan could ask for, he said.

“They play really well together,” Brennan said when asked to describe his team. “They did everything we asked, we are pretty demanding, almost unreasonable sometimes and they gave an unreasonable effort.”

The Eagles await their first round opponent in the NCAA Tournament, which will be announced March 16.

Correction: An earlier version of this article said the Eagles opened conference play with an 11-game winning streak.

esaltzman@theeagleonline.com


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