Eagles gunned down by the Midshipmen for the second time, but freshman “Johnny O” shines

Turnovers and poor shooting sealed the Eagles fate, fall to 0-2

Eagles gunned down by the Midshipmen for the second time, but freshman “Johnny O” shines

Matt Rogers (#15) in a game against Navy on Jan. 16

The American University men’s basketball team (0-2) once again fell to Navy (9-1, 6-0 PL), 59-71, one day removed from a heartbreaking overtime loss to the Midshipmen. The Eagles now stand winless in their first weekend, and turnovers have emerged as the team’s kryptonite.

Freshman forward Johnny O’Neil had his second standout performance for the Eagles and is emerging as a scoring machine. O’Neil, dubbed “Johnny O” by the announcers, started at center for the Eagles in each of the first two games. He finished with 17 points and seven rebounds, leading AU in both categories. 

Head coach Mike Brennan said he was pleased with O’Neil’s performance over the weekend.

“He’s been terrific,” Brennan said. “You never know what you’re going to get until the kids actually get here. He plays hard, he listens and he’s going to be good for us.”

However, O’Neil’s breakout play could not offset the team’s mistakes.

The Eagles had 21 turnovers against the Midshipmen in Sunday’s contest — which included eight in the first eight minutes — after turning the ball over 20 times on Saturday. Brennan said that he wasn’t concerned about mistakes this early in the season. He stressed that the team needs to cut back on small mistakes, but he has already seen some improvement.

“I want them to be aggressive and try to make plays,” Brennan said. “So that will take care of itself once they get more comfortable with that.”

The sloppy play allowed Navy to jump out to a 16-6 lead less than 10 minutes into the first half. AU was able to cut the deficit and take a lead with six minutes left in the first, but Navy fought back and took a nine-point lead into halftime.

AU never led again, as more turnovers and poor shooting from the field doomed the team. The Eagles shot just under 24 percent from 3-point range and 57 percent from the free-throw line, and seniors Stacy Beckton Jr. and Jamir Harris both struggled after stellar performances Saturday. 

The Eagles entered this game without freshman guard Colin Smalls and junior forward Connor Nelson. Smalls sustained a groin injury on Saturday a minute after checking into the game. Brennan said he doesn’t know when Smalls will return. 

Nelson, who did not play this weekend, is expected to return next weekend against Loyola Maryland. AU was originally scheduled to open the season against the Greyhounds, but the doubleheader was canceled after someone within Loyola’s program tested positive for coronavirus. 

Next Saturday is AU’s season-debut at Bender Arena, where the Eagles will search for their first win of the season. Last season the Eagles swept the Greyhounds in their two meetings.

bmorse@theeagleonline.com

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