Eagles lose with sluggish OT performance
The AU Men's Basketball team suffered an overtime loss to the East Carolina Pirates on Saturday, falling 74-64 at Bender Arena. The Eagles clawed back from a slim halftime deficit with tough defense and the leadership of junior star Patrick Doctor, but the team was grounded in overtime, scoring just four points in the five minute period.
ECU was led by freshman sensation Gabriel Mikulas and junior Fred Primus. Primus sent the Pirates into overtime with a game tying three-pointer at the one-minute mark and also notched ECU's first seven points in overtime. Mikulas crashed the glass for 10 boards and was a force inside, both offensively and defensively. Both players finished with 19 points. ECU head coach Bill Herrion mentioned the impressive strength of AU's defense, which ranks fourth in the Colonial Athletic Association, but also commented that "Our kids have accepted and understood their roles," which was a key actor in ECU's composure down the stretch.
AU put up a number of runs throughout the game, but none sufficient to pull away from the Pirates. The Pirates erupted on a 17-2 run in the first half, outrebounding and out hustling the Eagles, but by halftime the Pirate lead was only two despite the 29.2 percent shooting performance from AU.
In the second half the Eagles battled back, obtaining their first lead since 6-5 with 9:46 left to play. The Eagles led by as many as five the rest of the way and never relinquished a tie until the Primus three-pointer. Senior guard Ronald Hearns chipped in 10 points, including a jump shot in overtime that cut the ECU lead to one. Sophomore guard Hasheem Alexander contributed 11 points and 5 assists, and junior forward Doctor exploded in the second half for 13 of his 19 points.
Although the Eagles played a stellar defensive game they struggled offensively. "They were doubling down hard [on Doctor] and dropping two more guys into the lane," head coach Jeff Jones said. The doubling down led to more open shots for the perimeter players, he added.
However, AU could not get the shots to fall in the first half and overtime, shooting less than 30 percent from the floor in those two periods. AU's best shot of winning came at the end of the second half when they had the Pirates on the ropes, but the Eagles converted only 1 of 6 free throws down the stretch.
"Free throws and turnovers have been our Achilles' heel all year long. We have to be more efficient and effective from the free throw line," Jones said.
AU shot 58.3 percent from the stripe, compared to ECU's 70.8 percent, and also committed twice as many turnovers.
On a positive note, the return of Patrick Doctor has improved AU's quality of play and given them another inside defensive presence. Doctor played extremely well on Saturday despite the Pirates double-teaming, and Jones mentioned that he has "actually enhanced chemistry [because] everyone wanted him to come back." Jones also said Doctor has earned the respect of his teammates by handling a tough situation (his suspension by the NCAA) remarkably well and that "he has continued to improve and I think [there is] a lot more that Patrick can do."
ECU improves to 12-6, 4-3 and will face GMU on Monday. With the loss the Eagles drop to 6-11, 2-5 and will head to future Patriot League foe Bucknell on Monday. AU won its first meeting with Bucknell 60-58.
Jones also announced Saturday that sophomore Charles Pringle will transfer and freshman Kevin Bell most likely will transfer from AU. Pringle, a 6'8" forward/center, hails from Philadelphia and played in 20 games last season, averaging 1.5 ppg and 1.2 rpg. However, Pringle was not able to play this season due to academic ineligibility, and will transfer to Westark Community College in Fort Smith, Ark.
Bell, a 6'3" guard, was not able to play this season due to eligibility issues with the NCAA. Bell played at nearby Riverdale Baptist last season and comes from New York, N.Y. He has not decided where he will transfer as of yet. Pringle and Bell are the second and third players to transfer this season, following on the heels of freshman recruit Deon Saunders, who left the team because of violations against the team conduct code.