ANNAPOLIS, Md. - The AU men’s basketball team did something Wednesday it hadn’t done in almost 20 years: lose at Navy.
The theme of the 77-68 loss appeared to revolve around breaking streaks. Navy (7-11, 1-4 Patriot League) snapped its winless streak in league play. AU lost for the first time in its last 11 games against the Midshipmen and junior center Paulius Joneliunas gave his first impact performance of the season with 15 points and five rebounds.
AU (2-4, 7-13) fell behind early by five points but bounced back and carried a 37-31 lead into halftime.
The Eagles appeared crisp and ready to play out of the gate, knocking down shots and pounding the glass. But what looked like a grind-out win for AU took a 360-degree turn with 6:02 remaining in the second half.
Navy guard Greg Sprink devastated the Eagles’ efforts, knocking down two 3-pointers, the last with an athletic leap over AU guard Linas Lekavicius for a 56-53 advantage. He ended up with a game-high 27 points.
On the next possession, AU junior guard Arvydas Eitutavicius answered the dazzling play by Sprink with a 3-pointer from the right wing to tie the game, 56-56.
But with three minutes remaining, the Eagles gave up a 7-0 run and got sent home with their second straight loss and fourth loss in PL play.
“We played hard,” AU coach Jeff Jones said. “I’m not upset with our effort, but when you play hard, you’ve got to accomplish certain things. There are certain things that win games.”
Wednesday, that certain thing was perimeter defense. At a disheartened press conference following the game, Jones chalked up the AU loss to two things: Navy’s ability to knock down shots and the Eagles’ tendency to miss them.
Navy shot 10 of 19 from 3-point line. But beyond the made buckets, they showed the toughness that’s demanded of every Mid.
“I don’t know if [toughness] comes from the academy and what this environment breeds, but they feed off of that,” Jones said. “Somehow we’ve got to become tougher. They stepped up and kicked our butts.”
With 3:44 left in first half, AU stretched its lead to 33-22 off an offensive board and layup by junior guard Andre Ingram to cap a 12-4 run.
Joneliunas accounted for 12 of 20 AU first-half points in the paint but, he wouldn’t be a factor, nor would the points in the paint grow after the break.
“Right at the beginning of the second half, we had a couple of guys that come out looking lethargic,” Jones said. “Maybe we need to look at our first-half warm-up.”