More intensity needed for Men's Hoops
It seems every reference to AU's most notable Men's Basketball accomplishments ends with the phrase "when it was led by current Maryland coach Gary Williams." The Eagles missed a chance to erase this attribution for at least one feat on Saturday when they fell in overtime to Lehigh, 63-58.
AU entered the contest 2-0 in Patriot League play, and a third win would have given it the best start in conference play since 1981, when it was led by current Maryland coach Gary Williams, of course.
That year's edition of the Eagles tore through the East Coast Conference with an 11-0 record before being halted by St. Joseph's 63-60 in the conference championship. They fell to Toledo a few days later in one of the school's rare NIT appearances.
But as far as AU's short history in the PL goes, a tough loss to Lehigh is a disappointment, but is no reason for Eagles fans to start donning paper bags on their heads at Bender Arena. The team, record-wise, is hardly different than it was the last two seasons at this point.
AU began conference play this season with a 6-8 mark. The Eagles were 5-8 the previous season and 7-6 in their PL regular season title campaign in 2002. AU started conference play those seasons with records of 2-1, 1-2 and 2-1, respectively.
A win Saturday could have put the team in the PL's elite in this young season, leaving it undefeated and tied with preseason favorite Lafayette for first place. A few tough losses like the one to Lehigh won't put the Eagles in the cellar. It will, however, illustrate the weaknesses that could distance them from the elusive conference championship that has been the aim of the program for each of its three PL seasons.
How can they change their fortunes and avoid close heartbreakers to the league's cr?me de la cr?me?
"The difference between them and us is that they're nastier," AU head coach Jeff Jones said, referring to Lehigh. "I say that in admiration. They don't care how the job gets done. They don't care if it looks good or if it looks bad, or who does it. They went out there and got to work."
Jones said he saw the difference in the pursuit of loose balls. Andre Ingram's scramble for Mountain Hawk Ra Tiah's missed jumper in front of the Lehigh bench with less than a minute left in regulation was the only loose ball his players got, according to Jones.
If in upcoming games Jones gets the ferocity he thinks has been lacking, it could go a long way toward elevating the team in the standings. The Eagles are a team that won't win many blowouts in a conference whose upper echelon is evenly matched, meaning that every point, every possession and every loose ball matters. It would have especially mattered Saturday, when an extra possession could have clinched victory in regulation.
AU's resounding 80-58 win at Navy on Jan. 14 proved it could take care of the PL's weaker teams, but it will need to be more aggressive to stop the best, especially with this weekend's contests at Holy Cross and Colgate. Added intensity will get the Eagles over the hump, and give them an identity not as Gary Williams's old program, but as Jeff Jones's current.