RACHEL DEVOR / THE EAGLE
The AU men’s basketball team used a strong second half to overcome a lackluster opening 20 minutes and defeat the St. Francis University Red Flash 62-52 Friday night at Bender Arena in their season opener.
Vlad Moldoveanu poured in a game-high 24 points to go along with six rebounds as the Eagles outscored the Red Flash 35-16 in the second half to turn a nine-point halftime deficit into a double-digit victory.
Troy Brewer scored 12 points and Daniel Munoz came off the bench to add 10 for AU. Mislav Jukic paced the Red Flash with 21 points, shooting 9 for 12 from the field.
“That was a really, really physical, hard-played opening game,” AU Head Coach Jeff Jones said. “[I’m] certainly not pleased with how we played all the time, but the fact that we were able to respond in the second half and come out with a win, I’m very pleased.”
Jukic scored the first four points of the game as St. Francis opened the contest on a 9-0 run. AU would start off cold, not netting its first points until over three minutes into the game.
After the Eagles cut the deficit to one at 15-14 in the game’s early going, the Red Flash scored the next eight points. A Chris Johnson three-pointer with 7:21 remaining in the first half put St. Francis ahead 23-14. The Red Flash extended their lead to 28-18 minutes later when Jukic, who had beat the Eagles all night inside, stepped out beyond the arc and hit from long range.
“I was extremely impressed with Jukic,” Jones said. “He’s a good player, he’s tough [and] he’s really strong.”
Trailing by 10, Munoz knocked a three-pointer, and two jumpers from Brewer cut the Red Flash lead to 30-25 with just over two minutes left in the first half.
But, as they seemed to do throughout the opening stanza, St. Francis answered every AU run. This time, the Red Flash closed the half on a 6-2 run to take a 36-27 lead.
“We came out slow,” Brewer said. “St. Francis was hungrier than us, and it showed in the first half.”
The tide would turn in AU’s favor at the start of the second half, as the Eagles scored the first seven points to pull to within two at 36-34. Nick Hendra was the catalyst for AU, as his three-pointer to cap the run led to an early timeout.
With the Eagles later trailing by three, Moldoveanu’s first three-pointer of the contest led to the game’s first tie at 40 apiece with 12:07 to play. Moldoveanu then notched a layup at the 11:05 mark, giving the Eagles a lead they never relinquished.
AU scored 12 of the next 18 points before Munoz, who played well in 24 minutes off the bench, made a layup to put the Eagles ahead 56-46 with 3:20 to play. St. Francis would get no closer than nine down the stretch, as the Eagles outscored the Red Flash by 19 in the second half for the 62-52 victory.
“We had to go toe-to-toe with them and do it with our defense, and do it with our rebounding,” Jones said. “In the second half, instead of taking what the defense gave us, we were more focused on trying to get what we wanted.”
The Eagles will next be on the road against the University of Albany Great Danes on Nov. 15 before returning home on Nov. 17 to take on the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks.