Men’s basketball enter PL tournament as sixth seed after 67-66 win over Navy
The Eagles finish the regular season on a four-game winning streak
When AU and Loyola Maryland last met on Dec. 30, the Eagles were riding a four-game losing streak and held a 2-11 record. Two months later, the Eagles took the court as a completely different team. After a season which included a 10-game losing streak, a winless home game streak stretching three months and 0-6 start to Patriot League play, the Eagles ended with a 67-66 win over the Greyhounds, extending their winning streak to four and notching their ninth wins in the last 12 games.
AU’s last game of the regular season served as the capstone for their midseason turnaround, and the Eagles will now enter the Patriot League tournament as the sixth seed. The Eagles avoided the seventh seed and the first round game after Navy lost to Bucknell Saturday night. The Eagles will travel to third seed Boston on Thursday.
“The margin for error now is very very small. Every play, that’s it, it could be our last game” senior forward Marko Vasic said. “You can’t afford to make silly mistakes. You have to play hard, go after every rebound, play for each other, pass the ball. Luckily, we’ve been here three years, it's up to us to really lead the team.”
During the last five minutes of Saturday afternoon’s game, the Eagles and Greyhounds remained locked into a intense back-and-forth battle where the lead changed 11 times. With 13 seconds left in a 66-66 tie game, the Eagles turned to freshman standout Delante Jones for the final shot. Jones navigated through Loyola defenders and released his jump shot with just two seconds left. The ball bounced off the rim, but fellow freshman Andrija Matic positioned himself under the rim to collect the offensive rebound.
Before Matic could release a shot, Loyola senior forward Franz Rassman fouled him, and Matic went to the line for two free throw shots with less than a second left on the shot clock. Matic converted one the first shot to give AU the 67-66 lead, but he missed the second shot, allowing Loyola to collect the rebound in time for one unsuccessful hail mary attempt.
“We tried to call a play for Delante, and it’s just up to him to make a play, but then the reason you win the game is because Andrija goes up for an offensive rebound and gets fouled,” head coach Mike Brennan said. “It’s about everyone doing their part in games like this.”
AU entered the halftime break ahead 32-31 behind strong three-point shooting and free throw conversions, despite getting outshot 13-to-11. Seven Eagles recorded points in the first twenty minutes of play.
The two teams began the second half trading jumpers, but AU ultimately separated itself from Loyola off a 7-2 offensive run. Yet, the Greyhounds fought back and initiated a back-and-forth affair for the remainder of the game.
Jones finished the game with a team-high 18 points, his eighth consecutive double-digit scoring game. Senior guard Jesse Reed and Vasic also notched double-digit point totals with 14 and 10 points respectively.
A key to the Eagles’ turnaround in the second half of the season has been their ability to get to the free-throw line and convert. Today the Eagles made 17-of-27 shots at the charity stripe. Jones was 8-12 from the free-throw line.
“We’re just scoring a little more easily. We’re more comfortable. We know when our shots are coming,” Brennan said. “The guys understand what we’re trying to do collectively, on the offensive end, better. It’s just getting to that point when you have a certain comfort level.”
Brennan said after the game that he was always confident the Eagles would get to this level.
“You saw it even through losing. We lost by a ton of points early on, then things got better,” Brennan said. “It just took time. There was growth, you didn’t see it in the win-lose column. We’re continuing to grow.”
Prior to the game, senior guards Jesse Reed and Marko Vasic were both honored before the game for Senior Day, and Reed said the emotional value of the game didn’t hit him until he walked across the court with his family to receive his senior gift participate in the pre-game ceremony.
“I dont think it really kicked in until we started walking out in pregame with our parents. It’s starting to kick in now that this is probably our last time at Bender,” Reed said. “We have had some good years here, had a lot of fun. So we’re definitely going to cherish this.”
Seniors typically walk onto the court with their parents and additional family members during the ceremony, but Vasic, a Serbian-native, did not expect to see his parents because his home was so far from D.C. However his mother traveled over 4,000 miles from Belgrade, Serbia to surprise her son and attend her first AU men’s basketball game.
“Obviously this game is special for so many reasons,” Vasic said. “Coming into the game we tried to focus on the basketball things, and we were going to think about the thing after the game and after the season ends. Right now, we have a important game coming up.”