Eagles out-fox Marist in the men’s basketball season opener
Overtime thriller came down to free throws
The victory marked the team’s first game of the season and the Eagles’ first home game in front of fans since March 2020.
“The first win is always the hardest win,” senior guard Stacy Beckton Jr. said. “Early on [in my career] at AU, we didn’t have decent crowds, but tonight the energy was great in the building.”
Momentum swung back and forth the entire game, but the first half was an offensive struggle for both sides. The two teams mustered a combined 50 points, and AU shot 41 percent from the field and 10 percent from three.
Marist fared no better scoring, and the first half was plagued by sloppy play. Both teams had eight turnovers in the 20 minutes. While the offensive output picked up in the second half, AU struggled all game from three-point range.
Scoring from familiar sources and new faces
The Eagles relied on scoring from inside the paint for most of its first-half offense. Senior forward Josh Alexander led the assault on the basket, and he battled Marist centers Jordan Jones and Victor Enoh in a physical matchup. Alexander’s weapon of choice was the hook shot, and he finished the game with 14 points.
Beckton was the only Eagle to make a three-point shot in the first half, and his 18 points led the Eagles in scoring all game.
“It was just doing whatever I needed to do for our team, and just putting everyone else in a position to be successful on the court,” Beckton said.
AU also had several contributions from fresh faces. Freshman guard Elijah Stephens, senior transfer Jaxon Knotek and sophomore guard Lincoln Ball all played their first minutes and scored their first points as Eagles. Head coach Mike Brennan said that Knotek had been dealing with an injury before the season started, but the Wisconsin native showed it wasn’t affecting him when he threw down a thunderous dunk. Knotek was a fan favorite with the student section, one woman holding up a sign that said “22 will dunk on you.”
AU rallies but forced to fight in overtime
AU went into the intermission locked in a dogfight down 26-24. However, Marist started the second half on fire and almost put the game out of reach for AU. The Red Foxes started the first three minutes with a ten-point run that put Marist up 36-28 with 17 minutes left in the half.
Marist’s offensive outburst was not a knockout blow, and AU responded with their counterattack. Scoring from Beckton and sophomore guard Colin Smalls got AU back into the game.
“I thought we were getting good looks the whole night,” Brennan said. “We started to go inside more, we turned up our aggression level, and we went a little more to the basket.”
The momentum swelled in AU’s favor, and AU went up 50-42 with about six minutes left in the second half.
AU held multiple seemingly game-ending leads throughout the second half, leading by nine twice within the last five minutes to play, but the Eagles couldn’t kill the clever Red Fox. Marist had relied on guards Raheim Sullivan, Ricardo Wright and center Jones all night for offense, and the Marist standouts refused to go down quietly.
Sullivan finished the game with 23 points and AU could not stop him from attacking the basket, but it was Wright and Jones who wiped out AU’s chance for a win in the waning minutes of regulation time. The two combined for 14 of Marist’s 16 points in the last five minutes of the second half, and the pair were directly responsible for the game going to overtime.
With 18 seconds left and AU up 62-60, Beckton drove to the basket to try and finally vanquish the Red Fox. However, Jones blocked Beckton’s layup, Marist flew down the court, and with seven seconds left, Wright tied the game after securing an offensive rebound forcing the game to overtime.
The AU crowd, which had been rambunctious all night, reacted with anger to the sequence of events.
AU came out slow to start the extra period, but late-game heroics from Stephens and sophomore forward Johnny O’Neil sealed AU’s victory. Stephens led the team in assists, and his five made free throws in the final seconds of the game sealed the win for the Eagles. O’Neil had not made a shot from beyond the arc in either half, but his overtime three tied the game with just over a minute left to play. After forcing a turnover and getting fouled, O’Neil’s free throws gave AU a lead they never relinquished.
The Eagles’ victory came without regular starter Ben Lubarsky, who Brennan said was sidelined with chronic back issues. Brennan said that Lubarsky is currently rehabbing the injury. AU’s win against Marist will be the last time they play in Bender Arena in November. The Eagles will begin an eight-game road trip.
The Eagles will return to Bender and face Saint Francis University on Dec. 8 live on ESPN+.
Editor's Note: The lede of this story has been updated. A previous version of this article contained erroneous punctuation.