The AU men’s basketball team needed a month to get its first win of the season, but they finally secured it from Howard University Tuesday night.
The game was close. as neither team could stretch its lead to more than six points. Those six points were all the Eagles needed as they defeated the Bison by 59-53.
“We’re happy; it’s nice to win. We’ve been close, and we can take satisfaction from holding on,” said Head Coach Jeff Jones.
Defense was the name of the game in the first 13 minutes for both teams. After AU jumped to a 2-0 lead after winning the opening tip, neither team was able to create a good opportunity to get a shot off.
Howard was able to tie the game after two free throws three minutes after the opening basket. They used the free throws as momentum and capitalized on AU turnovers to push their lead to four. AU turned up the defensive pressure, making use of a full court press to fight back and tie the game at 9-9 before going into a timeout on the floor.
AU’s Nick Hendra stepped up and single-handedly pushed the lead to five. After two free throws and a defensive stop, Hendra found himself open atop the arc and knocked down a three-point basket. After a Howard score, Hendra took the ball straight through the lane and hit an uncontested layup, giving AU the 16-11 lead.
Howard was able to tie the game back up at 19-19 only a few minutes later. The Eagles responded with a 5-0 run to end the half with a 24-19 lead.
Both teams made fast starts in second half, trading back-to-back-to-back three point baskets. Following this offensive explosion, the defenses picked up again. Howard used a three-minute AU scoring drought to pull even with AU at 34-34.
The teams traded baskets and turnovers over the next five minutes and remained tied at 45-45 with five minutes to go. Nick McCormack was finally able to shake the nerves and produce the spark the Eagles needed to break the tie.
“[McCormack] was nervous to start his first game, but he came back in the second half and settled down,” said Jones.
McCormack stepped up and made two free throws to give AU a two-point lead. On the next possession, McCormack made a very athletic tip on Stephen Lumpkins’ miss to give AU the 49-45 lead.
AU took off running from there. The game turned into a test of the team’s nerve and will to win. Howard closed the gap to two but was forced to foul as time counted down. The Eagles stepped up, made their free throws and finished the game with a win.
Four AU players each scored in the double digits, but it was sophomore Riley Grafft who led the way with 14 points. Lumpkins recorded eight rebounds for the Eagles. Despite the winning effort, AU committed 16 turnovers to maintain its average of 16 per game.
AU will make the short trip to the Verizon Center on Saturday to face cross-town rival and 16th ranked Georgetown at 4 p.m. They are now 1-7 on the year with seven games to go in their non-conference schedule.