Nelson’s late FT’s lift AU over Loyola in thriller
Eagles now have an opportunity to move into tie for first place
With the game tied at 91 in overtime and 0.3 seconds left on the game clock, senior point guard Sa’eed Nelson stepped to the free throw line looking to win AU men’s basketball its fifth game in its last six tries.
Nelson, who was fouled on a 3-point attempt following an AU steal, came into the contest shooting 56 percent from the free throw line.
Despite his previous woes at the line, Nelson stepped up and calmly drained his first two free throws. Although he missed his third and final free throw, the job was done, as Loyola had no time left to shoot a reasonable shot.
With that, AU (9-9, 5-2 PL) defeated the Loyola Greyhounds (9-11, 1-6 PL) 93-91 on Wednesday night at Reitz Arena in Baltimore.
Nelson scored 21 points, while grabbing 9 rebounds, and dishing out 8 assists. Sophomore guards Connor Nelson, Jamir Harris and Jacob Boonyasith chipped in 16, 14 and 10 points respectively.
“I know I can make [free throws],” Nelson said. “I practice them everyday.”
Prior to Nelson’s game-winning free throws, a highly competitive game between the Eagles and Greyhounds ensued.
Out of the gate, AU’s offense was firing on all cylinders. By the 7:31 mark in the first half AU had a 36-23 lead and was shooting 73.7 percent from the field.
“We shared the ball,” Brennan said. “There were a bunch of guys contributing.”
Loyola, a team known for speeding up opponents on the offensive end, did exactly that to AU.
“The way [Loyola plays], they make you make individual plays,” Brennan said. “You have to have guys getting to the rim on their own, being aggressive, [we did that].”
Despite the offensive onslaught from AU, Loyola remained composed and closed the half on a 21-9 run that cut their deficit to just 1.
Coming out of the locker room in the second half, AU looked poised to run away with the game, going up eight over the Greyhounds with 14:31 to play. Their offense was boosted by a stellar performance at the line, where the Eagles made 18 of their 19 shots.
“When we make our free throws we are a dangerous team,” Nelson said.
Despite the strong start to the second half and the consistent offense throughout, AU was bothered heavily by Loyola’s Andrew Kostecka, a First Team All-Patriot League selection last year. Kostecka finished the game with 32 points on 12-19 shooting.
“[Kostecka] played a great game,” Nelson said. “He’s a flat out scorer, a flat out hooper,” said Nelson.
With the help of Kostecka, Loyola stayed competitive and trailed by three points with just seconds left to play in regulation. Down one possession, Kostecka broke the hearts of the Eagles, drilling a 3-point shot to send the game to overtime.
Kostecka fouled out early in the extra session, though, setting AU apart from Loyola down the stretch.
“I’m glad [Kostecka] fouled out,” Nelson said. “We needed that.”
AU will be back at Bender Arena on Saturday at 2 p.m. to take on the Colgate Raiders (15-5, 6-1 PL).
“We can play to get first place [against Colgate],” Nelson said. “We’re ready.”