AU men’s basketball falters in second half, loses to Navy by 12
Lack of defensive rebounding and absence of Beckton and O’Neil lead to Eagles’ third loss
After a 27-day break in between games, including a 10-day shutdown within the athletic department, American University’s men’s basketball team (2-3) lost 72-60 to Navy (12-2), dropping their third game of the year to the Midshipmen.
For much of the first half of Saturday’s game, the Eagles appeared to be in control. Despite the absence of their second and third leading scorers, Stacy Beckton Jr., who has an ankle injury, and Johnny O’Neil, who was out due to a violation of AU’s COVID-19 protocols, the Eagles came out with a lot of energy, after not playing for almost a month. They were able to generate good looks on offense and keep Navy at bay, leading by as many as 10 points to start the game.
Despite leading, there were still some errors that AU made in the first half that would come back to bite them in the second. Primarily, the Eagles were unable to keep Navy off the offensive glass for most of the game. Navy, who would go on to grab 17 offensive rebounds, used its advantage on the offensive glass and second chance opportunities to tread water on offense and keep themselves in the game in the first half, while they struggled to hit open looks.
“This group is resilient,” head coach Mike Brennan said postgame. “They come out, they compete, they give you everything they have, they play together and they try. I think it was just literally a matter of them just running out of gas.”
Once the second half began, and Navy began to knock down the types of shots they uncharacteristically missed in the first half, things began to fall apart for the Eagles. The Midshipmen went on a 20-2 run to start the second half, turning a six-point deficit into a double-digit lead that AU was unable to overcome.
“We definitely came out strong,” junior forward Josh Alexander said postgame. “I think the energy was there. Obviously the run that Navy had going at the beginning of the second half, where we just couldn’t score and we couldn’t get stops, and down the stretch of the game when we finally got some stops and were making shots and trading baskets with them, that’s just not going to cut it. Also the rebounding was a challenge for us.”
Freshman guard Colin Smalls, who replaced Beckton in the first start of his Eagles career, was able to drive and get to the basket at will in the first half, as well as hit a few pull-up jumpers. Contributions from senior guard Jamir Harris and junior forward Christian Lorng also helped keep the AU offense steady in the first 20 minutes.
But once things started improving offensively for Navy, it seemed as though their defensive intensity increased along with it. As fatigue started to set in for an Eagles team trying to get back into playing shape, it became more difficult for the Eagles to drive to the basket and create open looks on the perimeter. The absence of perimeter scoring and creativity from Beckton and O’Neil was much more apparent in the second half.
Alexander continued his impressive play this season, trying to will the Eagles back into the game with his scoring. He led the Eagles with 19 points, a career high, and tied for the game high for both teams. The rest of the team shot a combined 37 percent from the field, and struggled from three-point range, making only three of the 15 3-pointers they attempted.
“He was definitely gassed by the end, wrestling around with [Richard] Njoku, [Daniel] Deaver and their whole team,” Brennan said. “But Josh was really good tonight.”
Despite Beckton, who is also the Eagles’ best perimeter defender, being out, the Eagles were able to shut down Navy’s leading scorer Cam Davis. Davis, who is averaging over 17 points per game and scored 34 points the first time the Eagles and Midshipmen matched up against each other this year, only scored 10 points this game, missing nine of his 11 shots.
As their bizarre regular season is scheduled to reach its conclusion next weekend, Brennan commended his players and their ability to stay energized and focused on the games, despite having to go through 10 games being postponed and multiple stoppages where they had to quarantine and were not able to practice and be around their teammates.
“I don’t think people realize what the experience is like,” Brennan said. “You’re completely isolated, eating takeout every single meal of the day. You can’t socialize or do anything. They become close because that’s the only people that they’re interacting with, but it’s been a long haul for a lot of these kids.”
The Eagles will play Navy again at Bender Arena on Sunday, with Beckton and O’Neil both expected to be out again. With only four games left scheduled in the season, and only two against teams in their Patriot League division, tomorrow’s game against Navy will be important for a team trying to secure a spot in the Patriot League tournament.