Men’s basketball celebrates victory after Nelson breaks all-time record

Eagles clinch top-three finish in the Patriot League

Men’s basketball celebrates victory after Nelson breaks all-time record
Sa'eed Nelson (#0) during a game against Colgate on Jan. 25.

It’s Wednesday night at Bender Arena and AU is ready to play against the Lafayette Leopards. There are 1,017 fans in attendance. It appears to be a regular midweek Patriot League matchup, except it isn’t. On this particular night, AU is looking for a win to stay in the hunt for the No. 2 seed in the upcoming Patriot League Tournament, and senior point guard Sa’eed Nelson needs just two points to pass Russell “Boo” Bowers for AU men’s basketball’s all-time scoring record.

As poised as ever, Nelson hit a mid-range jump shot to break the 39-year-old record two minutes into the contest, went on to score 30 points on 14-18 shooting, and carried the Eagles (15-13, 11-6 PL) to a 79-59 win over the Leopards (17-11, 9-8 PL).

“It felt good [to break the record],” Nelson said. “No matter what the record was, I was gonna come out and just play my normal game.”

AU hit a cold streak following Nelson’s record-breaking bucket, allowing Lafayette to grow an early 12-6 lead. With just over 13 minutes remaining in the first half, however, AU’s offense got hot and went on a 15-0 run to take a 21-12 lead. During this stretch, Nelson scored eight points.

“They were going under my screens,” Nelson said. “I had to shoot the ball and I was knocking it down.”

In addition to Nelson’s consistent scoring, AU was able to maintain its lead and go into the half leading 38-25 due to rock-solid defense.

“I think [the defense was effective because of] the overall alertness of the team,” head coach Mike Brennan said. “We just zeroed in on getting stops.”

AU carried its two-way success into the second half, with the team’s care for the basketball notably standing out. In the first 15 minutes of the second half, AU turned the ball over just once. For comparison, Lafayette had seven turnovers during this stretch.

“We moved the ball well … we’re being patient,” Brennan said. 

With the ball in AU’s hands for the majority of the second half, sophomore forward Connor Nelson and redshirt sophomore guard Jamir Harris were able to show the offensive progress they have made since the beginning of the season.

“We ask everybody to make reads, shoot, pass, dribble,” Brennan said. Jamir [Harris] and Connor [Nelson] are getting more comfortable [doing these things], and it shows.”

Harris finished the contest with 11 points and four rebounds, while Connor Nelson added 16 points, four assists, and two steals.

AU cleared its bench in the final minutes, giving junior forward Jesse Little and sophomore guard Christian Sutton some minutes to cap off an important night in AU men’s basketball history.

“I’m glad we got the ‘W’ so Sa’eed [Nelson] can enjoy the moment. He’s such a good kid,” Brennan said. 

AU will travel north to Worcester, Massachusetts to face the Holy Cross Crusaders (3-27, 2-15 PL) on Saturday at 2 p.m. The game can be viewed on the Patriot League Network

“It’s gonna be a tough tough game on Saturday,” Brennan said. “[Joe] Pridgen is a beast in the post, and [Holy Cross] has got shooters surrounding him.”

With a win, AU can secure a second-place finish in the Patriot League, meaning that the Eagles will host Patriot League tournament games through at least the semifinals if they advance to that stage.

jkolodny@theeagleonline.com

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