AU Men’s Basketball didn’t look anything like the team Holy Cross smashed by 24 points two weeks ago in Sunday’s home rematch with the Crusaders. But for all their improvements, failures to convert opportunities set the Eagles back in overtime, and they lost, 76-67.
The defeat leaves the Eagles in a three-way tie with Bucknell and Lehigh for second place in the Patriot League. The loss denied AU’s bid at a share of first place with the Crusaders (17-5, 8-1 in the Patriot League). Rivalry runs deep between the Eagles and Crusaders, as AU lost to Holy Cross in the league finals in 2002 and 2003.
Sunday’s loss followed Friday night’s 86-58 win over Army (3-18, 1-8 PL), in which junior Andre Ingram scored 23 points and shot 5 of 7 from 3-point range, and the Eagles held a 2-to-1 rebounding advantage.
AU (13-8, 6-3 PL) had a chance to end the Crusaders’ eight-game winning streak in regulation. Trailing 57-56 with five seconds remaining, Ingram missed the second half of a one-and-one after being fouled when he nearly lost the ball out of bounds in front of his own bench. But the game didn’t have to come down to one chance at the free-throw line.
“I would guess about six to eight times we had the ball and things seemed to be rushed,” said head coach Jeff Jones. “The bottom line is, we would make a good defensive play and get out in transition, but then not have anything to show for it. With a game of this intensity, you can’t do that.”
AU lost control of the game in a seven-minute span in the second half when both teams struggled to make the few shots they took. The Crusaders grinded out a 9-1 run in this period to take a 50-48 lead, forcing the Eagles to play catch-up the rest of regulation. Missed opportunities canceled a strong first half for AU in which a 12-2 run gave it a 36-29 lead at the break.
Ingram, who had a game-high 22 points and back-to-back 20-point games for the first time this season, said he felt good about the free-throw shot the game came down to.
“Any competitor wants to get a shot like that,” he said. “For me, I’ll just have to put that thought away.”
Holy Cross, which had four players scoring in double figures, had to rely on its depth. Nate Lufkin, a 6-foot-11 starter, sat out due to injury, and leading scorer Kevin Hamilton was held to only 26 percent shooting for 14 points by a good AU perimeter defense.
Making up for that lost production was freshman center Tim Clifford, who took charge under the basket and had a game-high 13 rebounds and 13 points. Reserve point guard Torey Thomas made the difference in overtime with 8-of-10 free-throw shooting and 15 points altogether.
“The biggest thing is that this team is so unselfish and respectful of each other,” Holy Cross head coach Ralph Willard said. “I told them we’d need a special effort today, and that’s what we got.”
It will be a battle to make up for the chance lost with defeat to Holy Cross: The Eagles play four of their final five games on the road, including ones against Bucknell and Lehigh.
As long as his team can play more efficiently than it played Sunday, Ingram seemed eager to get another shot at the league’s top team.
“We’re getting better as a team and this game shows that,” he said. “We’re ready to see them again.”