Lafayette Leopards maul AU Eagles 69-53
AU done in by turnovers and free throws
AU was originally supposed to play the Leopards Jan. 4, but the game was postponed due to multiple AU players entering coronavirus protocols.
The game was an even affair in the first ten minutes of play, the two sides trading the lead multiple times. AU sophomore Johnny O’Neil and senior Connor Nelson led AU’s attack each dropping long bombs from outside the arc accompanied by finesse interior play by sophomore Matt Rogers and senior Josh Alexander.
The Eagles’ aggressive offense gave them a 12-8 lead with 13 minutes left in the first half, but AU was unable to stop Lafayette center Neal Quinn from devastating their interior defense, the junior finishing the first game with a team-leading 17 points. Rogers was the first AU forward that tried to slow down the center from scoring, but Quinn repeatedly muscled and spun his way past the sophomore’s determined defense.
Alexander also fought to slow Quinn down in the paint, but the AU senior’s efforts were repelled by the seven-footers tactical brute force. A Quinn layup put the Leopards up 16-15 with just over 12 minutes left in the first half, and Lafayette never relinquished the lead.
Quinn's post presence wasn’t Lafayette’s only offensive output. The Leopards deployed a balanced offensive attack all game, mixing interior and long-range offense and four starters finished with more than 10 points. Lafayette power forward Leo O’Boyle cooked AU from three multiple times despite AU’s ferocious efforts to throw off the junior’s shooting motion.
O’Boyle threw up three fingers with a smirk on his face every time he plunged a dagger into AU’s heart, and Lafayette’s Kyle Jenkins and Jon Brantley assisted their teammate by consistently driving to the basket. Brantley’s aggressive offense got him to the free-throw line on multiple occasions and Jenkins’ thunderous one-handed put-back dunk was the highlight of the game to the dismay of the AU faithful.
AU’s offense could not match the Leopards during the second half, and the Eagles trailed by double digits for most of the period despite cutting the lead to seven with less than eight minutes left.
Turnovers doomed the Eagles’ chances of victory. AU entered the game with one of the worst turnover margins in the Patriot League and had six within the first ten minutes. AU’s 18 turnovers compared to the Leopard’s four defused the Eagles’ offense at key moments at the game, sapped AU’s momentum and elicited audible frustration from the crowd.
Brennan — who during the 2020-21 season said AU’s turnover problems would correct itself despite AU finishing the season last in the Patriot League in turnover margin — appeared visibly frustrated with his team’s inability to maintain possession of the ball during the game.
In the second half, after another AU turnover led to a Lafayette and one, Brennan turned to Eagles Director of Operations Sam Roditti on the bench and shook him in a seemingly humorous but frustrated manner.
“We ask our guys to make a lot of decisions, and there are a bunch of young guys out there learning what to do and how to play,” Brennan said. “I want them to continue to be aggressive offensively. We will get through this.”
Free throws also cost AU. The Eagles are second to last in team free throw percentage and finished the game 9-16 from the line. Brennan said getting to the free-throw line was indicative of the Eagles’ ability to attack the paint, but the Eagles had to get “comfortable” at the line.
AU also entered the game without two mainstays of their rotation. Freshman standout and former Patriot League Rookie of the Week Elijah Stephens was absent from the sidelines during the game, despite playing against Loyola Maryland Saturday. When asked, Brennan said after the game Stephens did not have COVID-19, and Associate Director of Athletics Communications Tommy Bennett said Stephens was suffering from a “non-COVID sickness.”
Several AU players had good games, despite the loss. Rogers finished the game with a team-best 12 points and eight rebounds, and despite Quinn’s strong performance, Rogers did not give an inch to the seven-foot center.
While he led the team in turnovers, O’Neil also chipped in 11 points, a block and finished the game 60 percent from the three-point line. “Johnny O” is seventh in Patriot League and leads the team in total blocks.
The Eagles play Holy Cross (3-14) for the first time this season Wednesday, Jan. 26 at 7 p.m. EST from Bender Arena. AU was originally supposed to play Holy Cross Jan. 13, but the game was postponed due to COVID protocols within Holy Cross’s program.