Eagles fade late, lose to Holy Cross 69-54
An emotional senior day ends on a sour note for the team, which played its last home game on Saturday
The AU men’s basketball team battled against the defending Patriot League champions the Holy Cross Crusaders but eventually came up short, losing 69-54.
Bender Arena was mostly full for senior day, in which all of the team’s graduating players were honored before the game. It was the last home game for Charlie Jones, Jalen Rhea, Leon Tolksdorf and Yilret Yiljep as members of the team. Senior team manager Samuel Roditti was also honored.
Tipoff produced a special moment when senior center Yilret Yiljep, who played his freshman season but had not played since he was diagnosed with an enlarged heart, had the opportunity to take the opening tip. Fans, coaches and players stood and applauded their teammate.
— AU Hoops Podcast (@auhoopspodcast) February 19, 2017
“It was very emotional for me. I haven’t stepped on the court since freshman year,” said an emotional Yiljep. “It was surreal.”
The first half was a back and forth affair. Holy Cross, the defending Patriot League champions, looked ready to defend its crown. Led by senior center Matt Husek, the Crusaders were out to a 7-0 lead early. The Eagles fought back with freshman duo Mark Gasperini and Sa’eed Nelson, making the game competitive.
But unlike the Eagles, the Crusaders shot well, and Holy Cross led by seven at the break. AU shot 36 percent from the field (9-25), including 9 percent (1-11) on three-point attempts. Meanwhile, the Crusaders shot 50 percent from the field (12-24), and went 4-6 from behind the arc.
Husek led the Crusaders with 13 points by the halftime interval, hitting three three-pointers and also grabbed three rebounds and recorded a block. Gasperini and Nelson scored seven points a piece for the Eagles in the first half.
The second half followed a similar trend to the first. Just under the ten minute mark, the Eagles made a quick 5-0 run to trim the score to 47-44. That would be the closest the Eagles would get -- the Crusaders then went on a 12-0 run of their own to put the game out of reach.
The Eagles did a solid job defending the Crusaders’ leading scorer, senior forward Malachi Alexander. However, Husek, the senior center who averages six points a game, exploded for 20 points and shot an accurate 8-9 from the field, including 4-5 from deep. Senior Robert Champion added 16 points and five rebounds for Holy Cross.
The Eagles were once again led by freshman guard Sa’eed Nelson, who finished with 16 points, five rebounds and three assists. Sophomore guard Delante Jones didn’t score a point in the first half, but exploded with 16 points in the second, hitting four three-pointers.
In the postgame press conference, head coach Mike Brennan focused on two seniors that impacted his program in different ways: Yilret Yiljep and Charlie Jones.
“It’s a nice thing that we were able to do that [tipoff ceremony] for YY,” Brennan said. “I know it meant a lot for him just to be introduced, be in uniform, be out on the court one more time.”
Charlie Jones played his last game at Bender Arena on Saturday, and Brennan mentioned how much he’s going to miss his jack-of-all trades forward. Jones, who came to the Eagles as a walk-on, has been a fixture in the lineup for three years.
“He wouldn’t let me not play him,” Brennan said. “We’re definitely gonna miss him more than even I know.”
The Eagles have two games remaining on their schedule. They head on the road to face the Navy Midshipmen on Wednesday at 7pm.