Eagles eliminated by Navy Midshipmen
Midshipmen’s second-half defense end AU’s Patriot League Tournament aspirations
You can’t lose in the Patriot League Finals if you don’t make them, and the 2021-2022 American University men’s basketball season is now in the history books.
AU started the game on fire. Sophomore Johnny O’Neil led the Eagles’ offensive charge, and his weapon of choice was the three-point dagger.
The 6’9 forward drained three shots from beyond the arc in the first six minutes of play, and O’Neil’s teammate Elijah Stephens followed suit with a three of his own.
AU’s early offensive attack was surprising. AU head coach Mike Brennan’s Princeton offense has traditionally valued getting to the paint more than long-range offense.
The Eagles made and attempted the fewest three-point shots in the Patriot League during the season, but the change in offensive philosophy seemed to be working in their favor as the Eagles took a 16-7 lead with over 14 minutes left in the first.
The Midshipmen were not fazed by their early deficit. Navy patiently got back in the game with a consistent attack in the paint, and the Midshipmen benefitted from AU’s chronic turnover problem. Navy scored six points in the first 10 minutes off AU turnovers, and the Midshipmen took the lead 18-16 with a jumper from Navy forward Daniel Deaver. Navy buffered their offense output with a militant defense.
The Mids switched from a man-to-man look to a zone defense during the first half that stalled out AU’s offense. Navy had deployed the tactic against AU before with great success, and the Eagles did not score again until there were eight minutes left in the half.
The sophomore took a pass from Stephens to the rim with a two-handed dunk to bring the score to 24-25. Rogers secured an errant shot from AU’s Stacey Beckton Jr. and two of his own misses before laying the ball in to make the score 26-30. Rogers’ also copied Alexander’s example with a hook shot to keep the score a three-point game with about a minute left in the half.
AU went into the half down 33-30, and Beckton, who also had a thunderous block earlier in the half, tied the game 33 all with a three to start the second half. The Mids methodically navigated their way to a 49-37 lead with 12 minutes left. Navy’s zone continued to frustrate AU’s offense, as AU only scored 10 points in the first 14 minutes, and the Mids capitalized off the Eagles’ unforced errors.
Navy scored ten points off of turnovers, as AU’s chronic concern created catastrophic consequences, and the Mids led by 18 with six minutes left in the game. However, as they had so many times this season, AU clawed their way back into the game. AU had gotten away from shooting threes halfway through the first half and into the second, but the Eagles recommissioned their long-range offense with about five minutes left.
AU sophomore Colin Smalls drained a three to cut the Eagles’ deficit to 10 twice, O’Neil sank another triple to cut the Mid’s lead to nine, Beckton hit a three despite a poor shooting night and O’Neil’s fifth three of the night nearly brought the Eagles back from the brink of defeat.
With 30 seconds left, O’Neil drained a contested three to cut Navy’s lead to four. AU fouled on the next possession to stop the clock, but Navy guard Austin Inge only made one free throw.
Stephens raced down the court with 26 seconds left to try and chip away at the deficit, but the Eagles’ chances of victory fell out of the sky after the possession fell apart.
O’Neil tried to set a pick for Stephens, opening a lane to the paint for Stephens to cut and O’Neil to roll, but the freshman dribbled away from O’Neil and towards the baseline. Navy’s defense did not buckle as Stephens dribbled to the baseline, and he picked up his dribble and seemed to not know where to pass the ball.
Stephens handed the ball off to AU senior Jaxson Knotek with about 20 seconds left, who heaved up a desperation three several feet away from the basket. The ball didn’t hit the rim, and Navy secured the rebound to ensure victory.
“You have to do a lot of things to beat them, a lot of things have to go right,” Brennan said after the game.
Brennan also said Navy’s stout defense and AU’s inexperience were key factors in the Eagles’ demise.
“Hopefully we stop being young,” Brennan said. “We have to make the play, they’re too good, they recover. So it’s a learning process for our guys.”