AU men’s and women’s basketball teams set out to make history at Patriot League Championship games

For the first time since the 2003-04 season, the AU men’s and women’s basketball teams will play in the championship game of the Patriot League Tournament in the same year.

This season the women's basketball team dominated Patriot League play, winning the regular season championship and securing the No. 1 seed heading into the tournament. The men's basketball team, on the other hand, faltered in conference play and finished in sixth place. However, both teams now have the chance to end their season with a league title.

Both head coaches have been at AU less than two years, and each has each secured the Patriot League Coach of the Year honor in that brief time.

Within the first two weeks of his career as AU’s athletic director, Billy Walker hired Mike Brennan as the head men’s basketball coach, a decision that last year helped the Eagles earn their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2009.

The team’s success inspired an increase in student support, and when the University organized a trip to Milwaukee for the first round of the 2014 NCAA tournament, students filled the fan bus.

This year, players and fans alike will make a similar trip to Easton, Pennsylvania on March 11 for the men’s Patriot League Championship game. AU will take on the No. 4 seeded Lafayette Leopards at 7:30 p.m.

“Men’s basketball is kind of the flagship program without having football,” Walker said.

The men’s team, picked first in this year’s Patriot League preseason poll, struggled early on and dropped their league opener to Bucknell University 57-47 on Dec. 31.

The team recovered, however, and picked up a string of home wins in January against Holy Cross, Colgate and Lehigh. Senior guard Darius “Pee Wee” Gardner made national headlines when the Eagles topped Lafayette on the road on Jan. 17, and Gardner recorded his third game-winning buzzer-beater shot in less than a month.

AU closed out the regular season with another loss to the Bison on Feb. 28, and they finished the year with a 8-10 conference record to land a sixth seed in the Patriot League tournament.

Despite their rocky start, Brennan’s Eagles have earned the opportunity to reclaim their preseason number one ranking tonight in the tournament championship. Junior guard Jesse Reed continues to shine for the Eagles, racking up 38 total points in the first two games of the tournament. AU has also relied on junior center Marko Vasic to fill in for injured centers junior Zach Elcano and senior Kevin Panzer. Vasic recorded 35 minutes and 13 points against Colgate on March 8 in what was only his fifth starting appearance.

Wonder Women

The women’s basketball team also looks to take home a league title this weekend at Bender Arena when they play No. 6 Lehigh for a chance to punch a ticket to the Big Dance.

The Patriot League recently honored head women’s basketball coach Megan Gebbia as Patriot League Coach of the Year on March 3 for her success in leading to Eagles to a 16-2 conference record. Gebbia boasts a 30-6 conference record in her first two seasons at AU.

The second-year coach challenged the team at the start of the season with high-profile games against Big-10 powerhouse University of Maryland, local rival George Washington and Ivy League standout team Princeton University. Maryland and Princeton both hold top 15 rankings nationally.

“We wanted to schedule up because when you get into the NCAA you’re playing a team like that, and you don’t want that to be the first time you’ve ever played an opponent like that because you're going to get killed, and that’s not what you want,” Gebbia said in a press conference earlier this year. “You want to be able to compete once you get there.”

The women’s basketball team pulled out big wins against Gonzaga University and the University of Oregon during their Thanksgiving Shootout Tournament in Las Vegas.

AU looks to build off its experience against tougher schools earlier this year to make history on Saturday.

“It’s a great group of personalities meshing together and really caring about one another,” Gebbia said in a press conference earlier this year. “I’ve been a part of many teams, and I really believe this is a special one.”

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