Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Thursday, April 19, 2018

Men’s Basketball late rally falls short, lose 65-63 in PL final

Men’s Basketball late rally falls short, lose 65-63 in PL final

Darius "Pee-Wee" Gardner during game vs Bucknell Feb. 28 

The No. 6 seeded AU Eagles fell short tonight in a heartbreaking thriller, 65-63, to the Lafayette Leopards.

It was a cinderella story that ended incomplete. The Eagles, after losing five of their last eight regular season games and virtually every big man on their roster, surged in the beginning rounds of the Patriot League tournament. First, AU upset No. 3 seeded Lehigh, on the road, then upset No. 2 seeded Colgate, on the road, to get the chance to defend their Patriot League title. Before AU could punch their ticket to their second consecutive NCAA Tournament, they had to go through No. 4 seeded Lafayette, a team the Eagles beat twice in the regular season.

Destiny seemed to be on AU side when the Eagles battled back from a once 13 point deficit to lead 55-53 with five minutes left to play. The Leopards, however, did not falter and continued to hit clutch shots in the final minutes of the game, like they had all game, to secure their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 15 years.

"It was a great effort by our guys. It's what they did all year, led by John Schoof and [Darius] Pee Wee Gardner. They determine what kind of team we are, and you saw what kind of team we were tonight. We just fell short," Brennan said to aueagles.com

The Eagles and Leopards began the game trading shots and turnovers. Over the first four minutes both teams collected two turnovers each. The Leopards thunderous sold out crowd at Allan P. Kirby Sports Center may have played a part in AU’s early uncharacteristic turnovers. The Eagles would go on to turn it over three more times in the next six minutes, for a total of five turnovers in the first 10 minutes. Even so the score only had AU down two, 17-15.

After another series of bad passes, unbalanced shots and missed layups for the Eagles, the door was opened for the Leopards to go on a 6-0 run. Over the the run the Leopards took a 23-15 lead and held the Eagles scoreless for six minutes.

Sophomore guard Charlie Jones broke the drought with 6-0 run of his own, scoring back-to-back 3-pointers with six minutes till half, to bring the Eagles back within two points. Following Jones, junior guard Jesse Reed provided the only other Eagle points the rest of the half coming off a 3-pointer and a free throw. AU was unable to get their offensive going went into the halftime 34-25.

The Leopards made sure it was a bad day for the Eagles to have an offensive slump, as Lafayette shot an incredible 68.4 percent in the first, going 13-for-19 and 3-of-6 from beyond the arc. The Leopards dominated in the Eagles inside in the first collecting 20 points in the paint, most at the hands of sophomore guard Nick Lindner. The second year player paced the Leopards in the first with 16 points.

In the second half the Eagles looked to limit the Leopards inside, but Lafayette took advantage of the different defense spacing and quickly shot off two three-pointers to extend their lead to 40-27, a 13 points lead with 18 minutes to play.

With a little less than 10 minutes to play the Eagles began to rally. Down by 10 points junior guard playing center Marko Vasic, made a layup, then Jones followed with a completed layup and-1 and finally senior guard Schoof layup completed the Eagles 7-0 run. Although senior Gardner wasn’t directly scoring the points, he was the man who, as he had all season, orchestrated and commanded the floor to lead the Eagles back to within three points.

After a Lafayette timeout, Lidner provided his team with a three-pointer and breathing room, at least for a couple seconds, as Gardner came right back and made three-pointer of his own.

With a little more than five minutes to play AU took its first lead, 54-53, since the first half. During this four minute rally the Eagles forced the Leopards to turnover the ball six times.

As time ran down the Leopards kept making clutch three-pointers. A pair from Seth Hinrich and Zach Rufer gave the Leopards a 59-55 lead with 2:16 to play.

However, Gardner was not going down without a fight, with 1:06 to play he banked a three-point shot to have the Eagles within one.

With 0:38 to play, and the shot clock less than that, the Eagles down three points went to AU’s greatest three-point shooters in program history Schoof. Everyone in the arena held their breaths as the ball floated through the air, inches off the mark. The Leopards we’re able to rebound and pick up a foul.

While Lafeyette looked to inbound with 13 seconds left, Gardner drew a holding foul to send Linder to the free-throw line, to ultimately putting the game out of reach with two made free throws.

In the final second of Gardner’s AU career the senior leader sent off a three-point shot from long range to close out a 65-63 loss.

Gardner finished the game with 13 points, a game high seven assists and two steals. In Schoof’s final game as an Eagle, he scored 10 points, going 4-for-11 and 2-of-5 from beyond the arc. All of the Eagle starters scored in the double digits and played all but one minute of the game. Junior guard Jesse Reed reached the 1,000 point milestone, while Vasic led the Eagles in scoring, just missing a double-double, accumulating 15 points and game high nine rebounds.

jreyes@theeagleonline.com


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