Men’s basketball falls to Navy for second straight contest despite big day from Harris
Young roster making strides amid unorthodox season
After a tough loss Saturday, American University’s men’s basketball (2-4, 2-4) fell 69-60 against Navy (13-2, 10-1) Sunday, losing the series and its fourth game of the year to the Midshipmen. These losses come after almost a month off, and an unquestionable lack of experience hurt the Eagles — they have played only six games this season. The differences between the two teams’ experience were clear in the first half of play.
The Eagles stumbled out of the gate in the first 20 minutes. Still without their second and third-leading scorers, senior guard Stacy Beckton Jr. and freshman forward Johnny O’Neil, the Eagles had trouble putting up points, especially due to a series of costly turnovers. AU’s 12 turnovers set them back significantly in the first half, especially considering the 28 points Navy scored off of turnovers. Navy scored 18 unanswered points midway through the first half, and AU struggled to curb Navy’s momentum early in the game.
However, turnovers weren’t the only obstacle the Eagles had to overcome, as the Midshipmen proved themselves to be adept thieves, stealing AU’s ball and subsequent momentum 13 times over the course of the game. Head coach Mike Brennan said that the team’s stumbles were due to a combination of things, and were partially a result of the team’s playstyle.
“The way we play, I want everyone to be involved and do everything,” Brennan said. “So it’s not like we have the point guard who’s in charge of the ball and all the turnovers are his and all the assists are his. You know, it’s like everybody handles the ball and everybody makes decisions, so it’s like each guy has to continue to get better.”
Despite early setbacks, senior guard Jamir Harris was an offensive powerhouse for AU, nearly single-handedly keeping the Eagles in the game, despite the turnovers that threatened to put the contest out of reach early. Harris made five 3-pointers in the first half, accounting for half of the team’s total points, and went on to shoot 10-for-19, including 7-for-11 from the 3-point line with 30 total points for the day. Though Harris was the primary scorer for the Eagles, the team worked together and played selflessly on offense, putting up 15 assists throughout the game.
AU also struggled to answer Navy on the boards, despite efforts by junior forwards Connor Nelson and Josh Alexander, who rebounded eight and four times, respectively. The Eagles couldn’t keep up with Navy’s aggression in the paint, either, shooting just 7/20 in the paint compared to Navy’s 21/32 mark. Bolstered by Harris, the Eagles managed to outshoot Navy from the 3-point line, sinking 46 percent of shots, compared to just 30 percent from Navy.
Harris and the Eagles’ proficiency from long range proved less effective in the second half, as the team’s pace slowed considerably. This is due in part to Navy’s double-coverage of Harris, who had a hard time consistently getting a shot off.
However, AU tightened up its ball-handling in the second half, contributing just five additional turnovers, compared to the 12 from the first half. Additionally, the Eagles rallied for seven unanswered points in the second half, and managed to cut down Navy’s lead substantially. In the last two minutes of the game, freshman guard Colin Smalls and Harris made back-to-back 3-point shots, assisted by Alexander, who subsequently made a layup. Harris managed to steal the ball from Navy, and Nelson sank a jump shot to shorten the lead to just 7 points.
Harris said he was proud of how the freshmen, particularly Smalls, played throughout the game, especially against such a strong opponent. In regard to Smalls, Harris said the games against Navy have been a trial by fire, and that he will come out the other side with valuable experience.
“He’s not afraid,” Harris said of Smalls. “He brings effort on both sides of the floor and he’s not afraid to make plays either, so it means a lot to have freshmen have that mentality, and play that way, especially going up against the best team in the league.”
The Eagles’ valiant late-game efforts were not enough, and Navy managed to triumph once again, led by junior guard Greg Summers and senior guard Cam Davis, who combined for 38 points. The Eagles managed to shut down Davis on Saturday, only allowing 10 points from the senior guard, but the one-two punch from Summers and Davis proved to be too much to handle for an already weary AU squad on Sunday.
Though the Eagles dropped the series to Navy, they are still in the running for a Patriot League championship, provided they maintain their second-place spot in the South Division. With only one weekend left in this unorthodox season, the Eagles have to make the most of every opportunity they have.
Brennan said that the team’s toughness will be a great asset in the coming days, especially in the face of the weekend’s losses.
“The team is resilient.” Brennan said. “They’re coachable, they’re tough, they work hard, you know, it’s just a matter of us having the opportunity to be in the gym and practice and work.”
The Eagles will have a chance to show their improvement three times during the coming week, first at Loyola against the Greyhounds on Wednesday. Their final two regular-season games are next Saturday and Sunday, where they play the Bison at Bucknell on Saturday at 2 p.m. and finally at home on Sunday at 4 p.m.