Stellar defense and massive second half carries AU over Navy
AU regains second place in the Patriot League, prepares for Sunday matinee at BU
After a disappointing road loss to Bucknell this past Saturday, AU men’s basketball turned things around, defeating the Navy Midshipmen 71-62 on Wednesday night inside Bender Arena.
AU (14-12, 10-5 PL) defeated Navy (13-13, 7-8 PL) on the road last month in large part due to gritty defense. This trend carried over into Wednesday night’s contest between the two teams, as AU was able to hold Navy’s dynamic duo of junior guard Cam Davis and senior forward Evan Wieck to just 21 combined points on 9-29 shooting.
Much of AU’s success on the defensive end had to do with the performance of senior center Mark Gasperini, who blocked 4 shots, which amounts to 10 percent of his career total in the category.
“Wieck is a big kid in there, he’s aggressive, [and] he’s hard to guard. Mark took a big step [defensively] by being active [and] blocking those shots,” said AU head coach Mike Brennan. “Mark is able to do a lot more by being in shape.”
Thanks to the strong defensive effort, AU was able to go into halftime down just two points, despite struggling to figure out Navy’s tricky zone defense.
“The way [Navy] plays, they make it difficult,” Brennan said. “Our defense was good enough to allow us to have time to figure things out.”
In the locker room during halftime, Brennan kept things simple.
“I just gave them a couple ideas of what they should be thinking about, sort of simplifying things,” Brennan said.
Brennan’s halftime pep talk paid dividends for his team, as the Eagles’ offense was firing on all cylinders in the second half.
Senior point guard Sa’eed Nelson was able to penetrate and finish plays at the rim throughout the second half, and finished the game with 26 points, which puts him just 23 points away from eclipsing AU’s all-time scoring record. Redshirt sophomore guard Jamir Harris also turned things on in the second half, draining four 3-point shots en-route to a 14 point performance.
“I thought our guys were just patient, and they got good enough looks by just being patient,” Brennan said.
The second half performances of Nelson and Harris, combined with more effective defense from Gasperini set the Eagles apart from the Midshipmen.
With the victory, AU moved back into a tie with Boston University for second place in the Patriot League. AU holds the tiebreaker between the two teams as a result of the Eagles January win against BU.
AU will travel to Boston, looking to separate itself from BU (16-12, 10-5 PL) on Sunday at noon. The game will be nationally televised on CBS Sports Network.
“They know what they’re trying to do on offense and defense, so we know we’re gonna have our hands full,” Brennan said. “They’ve been led by [Max] Mahoney, he’s playing like a Sa’eed.”