KELLY BARRETT / THE EAGLE
After its loss to Navy Wednesday night, the men’s basketball team needed some assistance if it were to finish the regular season on top of the conference standings. The team got exactly that, as the Eagles defeated Lafayette 84-72 and Colgate beat Navy 73-62 Saturday to give AU the Patriot League regular season title.
After honoring seniors Travis Lay and Romone Penny before tip-off, the Eagles executed from the start and controlled much of the first half, relying on a stifling defense. The Eagles forced 14 first-half turnovers on defense and held the Leopards scoreless for five minutes during the middle of the half en route to a 33-24 halftime lead.
Lafayette would not go away quietly, however. Playing with a higher energy and urgency, the Leopards put together runs of 10-2 and 8-0 to tie the game at 49 with just under 11 minutes remaining.
“Lafayette stepped up and became the aggressors of the game,” head coach Jeff Jones said. “We were knocked back on our heels.”
Nevertheless, AU stayed calm as junior Bryce Simon responded with back-to-back three pointers to catalyze a 15-0 Eagle run that stretched over a six-minute span.
“We started playing aggressive defense,” Jones said. “As a team, we hadn’t gotten after them. We got after them at that point. We hit the boards extremely hard, and it resulted in some buckets.”
Meanwhile, the Leopards were charged with two technical fouls in the second half, resulting in a loss of any momentum they might have had. These fouls gave AU extra points, as junior Garrison Carr was able to make all four resulting free throws.
As the final seconds ticked away, word spread throughout the crowd that Navy had lost and that AU would be crowned regular season champions with the win.
“I looked over to the bench and saw a couple players with big smiles on their face, and I knew it couldn’t be about the lead we had, so I knew something was up,” Carr said. “It’s a great feeling to have [the regular season title] outright.”
Simon led the Eagles with 18 points, while juniors Brian Gilmore, Derrick Mercer, Carr and senior Lay all scored in the double figures. Mercer also added a game-high seven assists for AU.
With AU’s win and Navy’s loss, the Eagles clinched the regular season conference title with a 10-4 record, one game better than Navy. The 18-11 Eagles also clinched home-court advantage throughout the conference tournament, which begins Wednesday. The Eagles will face off against Holy Cross.
Point guard Mercer was focused on the future in the locker room after the game.
“It’s not over - there’s still more to come,” he said.