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Friday, June 21, 2024
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Inspired Eagles stomp UNCG

Almost two weeks ago, AU Men's Basketball opened its home campaign with a groggy, uninspired effort against Delaware - a game that ended as a 72-63 Eagle loss.

"One thing we failed to account for is emotion," AU head coach Jeff Jones said after the game. "It wasn't that we did anything wrong in the beginning of the game. We just came out flat."

The Eagles wouldn't make the same mistake twice on Saturday in their second home game. Instead, they found their emotion early, and rode it to a dominant 65-45 win over the University of North Carolina-Greensboro at Bender Arena. The Eagles move to 2-4 with the win, while UNC-Greensboro drops to 3-2.

"It was a lot better of an effort than our last time out here," Jones said bluntly. "We didn't see UNCG's best, but sometimes if the home team exerts energy and aggression early, they can get the other team down. We did that and they weren't able to recover."

The Eagles got ahead of the Spartans relatively early, building a 16-5 lead with 9:56 remaining. But despite a start that was faster than the Spartans', the closing moments of the first half were possibly the most critical.

With 36 seconds remaining and trailing 27-16, UNC-Greensboro called a timeout with a chance to cut the lead to single digits and set up a sideline inbounds play. The ensuing pass was errant, and senior guard Andres Rodriguez ran onto the loose ball and made a breakaway layup. The Spartans turned the ball over on their next possession as well, leading to a buzzer-beating three-pointer from junior forward Matej Cresnik off a Rodriguez kick-out. Cresnik's shot sent the Eagles into halftime leading 32-16.

"Obviously that wasn't the way we wanted to end the half," said UNC-Greensboro head coach Fran McCaffery. "We went from being down 11 to down 16 in 24 seconds."

UNC-Greensboro hadn't scored in 7:40 as it went into the locker room, a span that expanded to over 11 minutes in the second half before Spartan forward Josh Gross's lay-up with 15:29 remaining in the game.

By that time, the Eagles led 38-18 and would go on to build their lead to as big as 29 points several times, the last being a 65-36 mark with 2:31 remaining.Rodriguez, whose form has improved notably in AU's last three games, led the Eagles with 16 points, 10 assists and four steals. For Rodriguez, whose distribution is starting to return to last year's form, there is still room for improvement.

"I still had five turnovers today," Rodriguez said. "Playing with three or four guys that I didn't play with that much last year, it takes a while to learn their habits. I think we're still getting to know each other, but in the long run I am not worried about it."

Meanwhile, junior guard Jason Thomas, whose play over the last several games has earned him a starting spot, added 14 points while helping hold UNC-Greensboro guard and leading scorer Jay Joseph to eight points. Thomas also had five rebounds.

"My role is to rebound the ball and play defense," Thomas said afterward. "When I'm playing good defense, the offense comes to me."

AU will have no time to relish the important win, with a match-up taking place several blocks east against District foe Howard on Monday night. After that game, AU's fifth in 10 days, and fourth road game in the same amount of time, the Eagles take 10 days off for finals before again heading on the road for five more games straight, including three games at the Rainbow Classic in Honolulu.

"It wasn't smart scheduling," Jones said, "and I'm responsible. The thought was that it would really test us, and it has. It won't get any easier for us."

On Thursday night at Elon, two AU players had their best individual performances of the season. Freshman guard Andre Ingram led all scorers with a career-high 22 points, and Rodriguez added 16 points, eight assists, five steals and only one turnover.

But the Phoenix proved stellar individual play isn't always enough by holding off the Eagles 85-82 in the last stop of a three-game road swing.

The Eagles went down to North Carolina trying to build on their first win of the season, an 83-69 victory over Radford two days prior. Despite holding the lead for portions of the opening half, the Eagles trailed by 14 points four times - twice in each half.

AU made its final run after the last of those deficits - a 75-61 Elon lead with 3:48 remaining. Over that portion the Eagles outscored the Phoenix 21-8, led by nine points from Rodriguez. With 20 seconds left, a three-pointer by Ingram pulled the Eagles to within one point, 81-80.

After a timeout, AU fouled Elon guard Matt Nowlin, who made both his free throws to push the lead to 83-80. Ingram missed another three-point attempt on the Eagles' next possession and, with four seconds left, Thomas scored a two-point bucket on the rebound.

Freshman guard Linas Lekavicius took a prayer of a three-pointer with time expiring, after Elon guard Carlos Moreira made two free throws with three seconds remaining, but the shot didn't fall.


As the semester comes to an end and one of the founding members leaves American University, Section 202 has decided to take a trip down memory lane. For our fans, old and new, who are wondering how Section 202 came to be, this episode is a must. Listen along as hosts Connor Sturniolo and Liah Argiropoulos reminisce about the beginning of Section 202 and how it got to where it is now.


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