Silver lining for Mens' Basketball
It took longer than they would have liked, but after tough losses at home against Delaware on Nov. 26 and at Fairleigh Dickinson on Saturday, the Eagles snatched their first win of the season with an 83-69 win at Radford Tuesday.
AU moves to 1-3 with the win while Radford drops to 3-2.
"We were approaching desperate," said head coach Jeff Jones of his team's need for a victory. "We'd been pushing ourselves very hard. Jason Thomas summed it up when he said to the guys before the game, 'Let's stop the bleeding.'"
Thomas helped his own cause, scoring a career-high 23 points for the Eagles while also taking, according to Jones, the toughest defensive assignments throughout the game. Thomas contributed seven points in a 9-0 AU run that opened the game. The Eagles followed his early lead, shooting 72 percent from the floor in the first half, including a 9-for-13 mark from three-point range.
"Sure we shot the ball well," Jones said. "But we did other things very well. We played great defense, and we must have had 10 points in the first few minutes where we got long rebounds that led to open lay-ups."
Already up 40-27 after the opening 15 minutes, the Eagles ran off 11 unanswered points to go into halftime up 51-27. Freshman guards Andre Ingram and Linas Lekavicius each had five points in the run.
In between the 9-0 and 11-0 first half spurts, senior guard Andres Rodriguez scored seven of his eight points. Rodriguez was more consistent in his distribution, dishing out six assists in the first half and five in the second. He was also the only player on either squad to play the entire game.
"It helps Andres when guys are making shots and taking pressure off of him to force the issue," Jones said of his point guard. "We've told Andres that we don't want him to try and do too much, but against Delaware and Fairfield he pressed a little bit. Tonight he was aggressive, but he also did a good job not forcing too much."
Radford chipped away at the margin after halftime as AU cooled off from the field, shooting a modest 48 percent from the floor and 2-for-7 from three-point range. Feeding off a game-high 27 points from guard Whit Holcomb-Faye, the Highlanders crawled back to within 11 points with 2:55 remaining. But Radford only managed two points in the rest of the game, as the Eagles coasted in for the victory.
"He's just a very good guard," Jones said of Holcomb-Faye afterwards. "I thought we played terrific defense against him, and he still had 27 points. But he had to take 18 shots to get that total."
Along with Thomas's team-leading scoring effort, Ingram and senior forward Jernavis Draughn added 16 points a piece for the Eagles. Along with leading all players in assists, Rodriguez led the Eagles in rebounds with seven and steals with five.
AU finishes a three-game road stretch at Elon tonight before returning home to face UNC-Greensboro on Saturday afternoon at Bender. Jones and the Eagles are hoping that Tuesday's victory is just the first of many notches in the belt.
"We need the same kind of effort against Elon," Jones said. "We have to have our inside game as a focus point. It must be a positive for us. By making people guard us in there, our outside jumpers start to fall."
"It would be very big for us," Jones continued, "to return home on Saturday with two road wins."
AU almost had its first win of the season three days earlier, only to fall at Fairleigh Dickinson 55-54 on a gamewinning three-pointer by guard Tamien Trent.
AU led most of the game, lost the lead late in the second half, and then regained it with less than a minute remaining on a lay-up and a foul shot by junior forward Raimondas Petrauskas. But Trent struck on FDU's next possession, sinking the three-pointer with only five seconds remaining.
Rodriguez had a look at a jumper at the buzzer but the shot didn't fall.
Draughn was the only Eagle in double figures, scoring twelve points in a 20 minute outing that was shortened by foul trouble. Meanwhile, junior forward Jason Thomas finished with a game-high 16 rebounds.
For the Knights, forward Gordon Klaiber led all scorers with 14 points, while Trent had 13 points in 18 minutes off the bench.
Delaware ruined AU's home opener on Tuesday, Nov.. 25, opening up a 16-point lead early in the second half before staving off a late AU run and preserving a 72-63 win.
AU cut the lead to three points on two occasions, at 62-59 with 1:50 remaining and 64-61 with 43 seconds to go in the game. But Blue Hen forward David Lunn led UD down the stretch, making all of his eight last-minute free throws, and ending hopes for an AU comeback.
For AU, Draughn had 16 points, Rodriguez and junior forward Matej Cresnik had 13 points each, and Petrauskas added 10.
Guard Mike Ames led Delaware with 16 points, followed by Lunn with 15, forward Calvin Smith with 14 and guard Mike Slattery with 13. Slattery also had seven assists from the point guard spot.