Eagles disarm Holy Cross Crusaders 67-49
Strong offensive output seals it for the Eagles
Like their namesake, the Holy Cross Crusaders (3-15) were driven out of Bender Arena Wednesday.
The American University men’s basketball team (6-13) vanquished their foes 67-49 in one of the Eagles’ best performances of the season.
The Eagles were aggressive from tip-off and attacked the paint unimpeded by Holy Cross’ efforts to stop them. AU sophomore Colin Smalls led the Eagles offensively. Smalls beat his defender time and again, converted defense into offense, attacked the basket and finished the game with a team-high of 16 points.
Smalls’ performance set the tone early on, and he was complimented by AU’s other top scorers. Senior Josh Alexander came off the bench early in the game and laid waste to Holy Cross’ interior defense with his patented cradle hook shot, also finishing the game with 16 points. The pair’s output quickly wiped out an early first-half Crusaders lead, and AU was in the driver seat nearly the entire game. Alexander said after the game the Eagles’ success was a team effort.
“They gave me the ball at the right spots,” Alexander said of his teammates. “They gave me the ability to work down low.”
AU’s aggressive play didn’t abate during the second half, and AU sophomore forward Matt Rogers and senior guard Stacy Beckton Jr. also got involved in the scoring onslaught. Beckton Jr. had a quiet night against Lafayette Jan. 24, shooting 20 percent from the field, but the senior guard played with a vengeance Wednesday finishing with 14 points and two blocks.
Rogers also played well, extending his hot streak after an excellent game against Lafayette, and the 6’9 forward played the game with a ferocious intensity that manifested itself in a guttural yell whenever he spoke on the court. The sophomore finished with eight points, four rebounds and two rim-shaking dunks.
Rogers has made his presence known on the court this season. The sophomore has started 12 games this season, is third on the team in scoring and second in rebounding. AU head coach Mike Brennan said Rogers’ play had grown this season.
“It’s just experience,” Brennan said. “He plays with a lot of emotion and physicality. So as long as he can keep coming along, get better at the technical stuff, and still bring that energy, that's what he does and we’re going to need it from him.”
The combined effort of AU’s starting lineup plus the efforts of freshman guard Elijah Stephens, who finished with seven points off the bench, methodically built a lead the Crusaders could not overcome. While Holy Cross cut the deficit to five with about 14 minutes left in the second half, AU continued to pour on the offensive.
However, it was the Eagles’ defense and care with the basketball that secured AU the victory. AU surrendered the ball 11 times compared to Holy Cross’ 13 and only gave up 10 points off turnovers. The Eagles struggled with turnovers against Lafayette Jan. 24, and Brennan said the team had made some adjustments before the game to protect the ball more. However, Brennan said he wanted his team to remain aggressive.
“I’m not crazy about telling them not to turn the ball over,” Brennan said. “We have to give them some rope, but can we recognize situations a little sooner and be a little more discerning? We talk about it a little bit, but I don't like to go too far in that direction.”
The Eagles also shut down the Crusaders’ offense at every turn, held the Crusaders to 30 percent shooting from the field, 14 percent from three-point range, blocked six shots and held all but one Crusader to less than 10 points.
“It was good to get a win at home,” Beckton Jr. said. “It gives you a little confidence.”
The Crusaders’ frustration manifested itself in their head coach Brett Nelson. Nelson screamed at his players from the bench the entire game, yelling “Urgency!” during the first half as Bender Arena seemingly lay silent. Nelson also bickered with the officials, and despite repeated warnings to stop contesting their officiating, was given a technical foul late in the second half.
Brennan said he was happy with AU’s performance after the game.
“We needed it,” Brennan said. “It was a tough stretch, but I thought our guys played well and are getting better at the things we’re asking them to get better at.”
The Eagles head back out on the road for their next matchup. AU faced Navy Jan. 29 and lost 45-47 and will face Lafayette Wednesday, Feb. 2 at 2 p.m. EST.