Rodriguez leads Men's Basketball to close win

Slam dunks for hoops preseason games

In their second and final pre-season tune-up, AU Men's Basketball encountered on-court adversity for the first time this year - a 10-point halftime deficit to Sakalai Vilnius, a Lithuanian professional team.

The Eagles responded, keying an outstanding 11-assist game from senior Andres Rodriguez, and five double figure scoring performances to win, coming from behind, 86-80 at Bender Arena on Sunday.

"People will look at Andres' stats after the game and say 'he played pretty well'," said AU head coach Jeff Jones. "But Andres was great today, the whole game. He was the one guy who escaped my wrath at halftime. When you talk about balanced scoring, with 11 assists Andres did everything for those guys short of putting the ball in the basket."

Junior forward Raimondas Petrauskas carried out that final step the most, scoring an efficient 19 points, while converting six of seven field goals and seven of eight free throws in only 20 minutes of action. Senior forward Jernavis Draughn and freshman guard Linas Lekavicius added 15 points apiece, junior forward Matej Cresnik put in 14 and freshman guard Andre Ingram added 11. Rodriguez added nine points and five steals to his 11-assist total.

Despite the result and the balanced offense, Jones was only mildly pleased with the Eagles' outing, largely because of the first half of play. In that half, AU flew out to a 10-2 lead in the first four minutes. But over the rest of that half, Sakalai drew even quickly and then built a lead that was as large as 15 points three times, capitalizing on 6-12 three-point shooting and 11-11 foul shooting on the half.

"The first half was forgettable," Jones said. "They're very experienced offensively, and in the first half we were too passive defensively. In the second half we attacked defensively instead of reacting to them."

An Ingram three-pointer at the buzzer cut the halftime deficit to 45-35. Two more Ingram three-pointers, the second coming off a baseline feed from Lekavicius, capped off an 18-2 AU run at 15:03 in the second half, a run that pushed the Eagles ahead 53-47. AU never trailed the rest of the game.

"We have to play much more like we did in the second half to be the team we want to be," Jones said. "With so many young guys on the team, sometimes it's hard to find your team identity. Hopefully we can start building our identity from that second half effort, an identity that starts with defense."

AU's defense forced Sakalai into 20 turnovers, four more than the Eagles' 16. The Eagles shot 55 percent from the floor on the game, and 64 percent in the second half, converting 16 of 25 field goals.

For Sakalai, forward Mindaugas Skalauskas scored 19 points, guard Rolandas Skaisgirys scored 16, center Rolandas Matulis scored 15 before fouling out, and guard Mantas Cesnauskis added 11.

The Eagles open the regular season at No. 25 Maryland next Saturday night, with tip-off at the Comcast Center scheduled for 8 p.m. For Jones, as perhaps for most coaches, the games that count have approached a bit quickly.

"We've got a lot of work to do still," Jones said. "But come Saturday, we'll show up and see what happens"

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