Midshipmen lock Eagles in the brig 55-46
Poor shooting and turnovers declaw American University
One of the most dangerous foes warships can face is an aerial attack, and the Navy Midshipmen had to take evasive maneuvers at Bender Arena to avoid bombardment from the American University men’s basketball team. Lucky for Navy, the Eagles’ attacks missed at every turn.
AU did not score a point for the first three minutes of the first half, nor did they break double digits until there were less than ten minutes to play in the first period and ended the half with 14 points. Navy struggled to train their turrets on the rim too, but the Midshipmen quickly built a 7-0 lead with over 17 minutes left to play.
The Eagles struggled to break through the Navy’s perimeter defense and attack the basket, as Navy forwards Daniel Deaver and Nate Allison clogged the lane. However, the Eagles methodically closed the gap to 7-5 after a putback by sophomore Johnny O’Neil and a mid-range jumper from freshman Elijah Stephens.
Navy steamed ahead 13-7 after a pair of layups and free throws from the cadets, despite a combined two-minute scoring drought. AU fought back and tied the game 13-13 with less than eight minutes left in the half. The Eagles got their offense by attacking the painted area and went 0-8 from three in the first half.
Navy counterattacked with a deliberate offensive pace, but AU couldn’t match the Midshipmen’s output. AU did not have a field goal for the last seven minutes, aside from a free throw from senior Jaxon Knotek.
The Eagles went into the half down 22-14 shooting 26 percent from the field. Wednesday was the lowest-scoring first half AU has had all season and AU has scored less than 20 points in the first half four times.
“We were stagnant early on offense,” head coach Mike Brennan said after the game. “When we were able to get some offensive looks, they went back to the zone and we got stagnant again.”
Brennan said AU had been focusing on defense in recent weeks, and the Eagles disrupted Navy’s offense enough to win the game.
“We just couldn’t score,” Brennan said. “We have to go revisit offense again.”
AU adopted Navy’s methodical scoring approach to start the second half and began chipping away at the Midshipmen’s lead. Meanwhile, Navy contracted the same offensive malaise that had plagued the Eagles in the first half.
The Midshipmen scored five points in the first nine minutes, and AU tied the game at 24 with less than 14 minutes left. Beckton Jr. led the offensive surge, soaring past the Midshipmen’s radar for a layup and decimating Navy’s warship with a long-range three. Stephens also hit a long-range bomb and Smalls tied the game at 24 with a jumper from the paint.
However, AU couldn’t take control of the game, and Navy emerged from the smokescreen that had silenced their offensive firepower. Navy hit three threes in the final period, two of them by junior Tyler Nelson, that put the Midshipmen back in front for good.
The Eagles deployed their long-range offense to try and get back in the game, shooting just under 43 percent, but it wasn’t enough to bridge the gap. AU appeared more frustrated as the second half wore on, and the irritation came to a head with five minutes left in the game.
AU head coach Mike Brennan had already voiced objections with officials throughout the game, at one point running halfway to the center logo to argue a call. AU had the ball with just under six minutes left in the game when Beckton tried to drop in a layup from the paint. Beckton and the AU bench thought there was contact but the referees made no call.
Brennan chased one of the referees down the sideline, berating an official for not calling a foul. Brennan was given a technical foul for his obscenity-filled arguing and yelled “I should be mad” at the officials while the Midshipmen took their free throws.
“I thought it was a bad call,” Brennan said. “I got upset, let him know and that’s all that happened really.”
Turnovers, poor shooting and Connor Nelson
Turnovers and poor shooting hampered AU from taking flight Feb. 16. The Eagles had nine turnovers in the first half.
The Eagles didn’t secure their nest much in the second half either. AU players passed the ball to phantoms on the court multiple times or failed to put up a shot before the shot clock expired, and AU finished the game with 16 turnovers to Navy’s 10.
AU also couldn’t put the ball in the net most of the game. AU finished the game shooting 32 percent from the field, 27 percent from three and 55 percent from the charity stripe. AU is in the middle of the Patriot League shooting from the field and three, but the Eagles have struggled from the free-throw line all year. AU is ranked eight out of 10 in the Patriot League.
AU is also missing senior forward Connor Nelson from their roster. Nelson watched the game at the end of the bench with junior Ben Lubarsky and sophomore Victor Brown Jr., both of whom have not played this season due to injury. Nelson has been out with injury since Jan. 29, and Brennan said there was no timetable for the senior’s return.
AU’s next match-up is at Colgate Monday at 6:30 p.m. EST. The game will air on ESPN+.