Men’s basketball comes back from 14-point deficit to beat Navy 72-65
The Eagles, led by Jesse Reed and Delante Jones, keep .500 season hopes
Surrounded by Navy defenders, senior guard Jesse Reed fired off a step-back three-pointer with one second left on the shot clock. As the ball sailed through the air, the sound of the shot clock buzzer was drowned out by the roar of the crowd as the ball swished in, giving the Eagles their first lead in the second half with 4:37 to play. The Eagles wouldn’t look back, going on a 17-0 en route to winning the game 72-65.
“I told them, it’s a heck of thing to be down 14 and to be in this point of the season and muster up the energy to fight back” head coach Mike Brennan said. “A month ago we didn’t have the confidence to do something like that or the experience.”
With their win, the Eagles remain tied in eighth place with Loyola Maryland, which they face in their regular season finale. After starting Patriot League play 0-6, the Eagles have a chance to finish the regular season an even 9-9 record if they prevail over Loyola Maryland Saturday afternoon.
A win against Loyola would not only would keep the Eagles from finishing the regular season with a losing league record but would secure the team the seventh or sixth seed in the Patriot League tournament. The Eagles can only reach the sixth seed if Navy beats Bucknell. The seventh seed would play host to the tenth-seeded Lafayette in the first round of the tournament. The sixth seed travels to third seed but earns a first round bye. Last season, the Eagles entered the Patriot League tournament as the sixth seed and advanced to the championship final, losing to Lafayette.
AU began the first half out of sync, missing shots and giving up turnovers on errant passes. Three-pointers from freshman guard Delante Jones and Reed allowed the Eagles to keep pace with the Midshipman for the first 10 minutes of play. Navy began to pull away after a 8-0 run for the 24-13 lead with six minutes left in the first half. However, the Midshipmen would commit five fouls in the remaining time to allow the Eagles to close the gap.
Freshman standout guards James Washington and Jones led the effort, combining for 13 points in the final six minutes of the half. Jones’ aggressive drives to the basket earned him eight trips to the free throw line. AU entered halftime down 32-29.
Both teams committed ten turnovers apiece, but the Midshipmen converted the turnovers into 14 points while the Eagles only gained four points off turnovers. The Midshipmen continuously switched their lineup, having 12 different players earned minutes in the first half.
The Eagles began the second half sluggish, allowing the Midshipmen to boost their lead to 14 points within five minutes. Despite Brennan’s sideline pleads to “stay tight,” the Eagles’ biggest problem of the night was Midshipmen senior center Will Kelly’s ability to penetrate inside and get open for easy jump shots. Kelly amassed 11 points in 11 minutes of the second half.
Down seven points with eight minutes remaining, AU switched their defense from man-to-man to a 2-3 zone in an attempt to stop Kelly, Brennan said after the game.
“He didn’t really say why, he just said run [2-3 zone defense] and we just stuck with it. At first he said run [it] for one possession then once we got a stop he said alright stay in it.” Reed said, “My guess was we were trying to neutralize them down low. We were getting pretty beat up down low. Make it a little harder for them to catch the ball and get good position really helped us a lot there.”
The switch proved to be a striking success for the Eagles, stopping Navy’s offensive flow. The Midshipman would be held to seven points to finish the game. The Eagles offense capitalized on the stops and break down the Midshipman’s defense for hard earned points.
Reed took command of the offense in the second half, shooting almost twice as many shots as the rest of the team and going to the line five times for 12 points in second half and a total of 21 points. Junior guard Jalen Rhea ignited the team off the bench, going 3-for-4 on the field, all from beyond the three-point arc while shooting 1-for-2 at the free throw line, scoring a total of 10 points.
Reigning Patriot League Rookie of the Week Delante Jones finished the game with 20 points, giving him his seventh consecutive game with a double digit point total. Jones finished the game with 12 trips to the free throw line.