The American University men’s basketball team (4-3) defeated the New Jersey Institute of Technology (1-4) 87-73 for their second home victory of the season on Nov. 16 in Bender Arena. After back-to-back losses at Villanova and William & Mary, the Eagles turned things around at home with a 78-58 win against Siena on Nov. 13 and Nov. 16’s triumphant team performance.
NJIT soon led 8-5 at 16:22, but senior forward and leading scorer Matt Rogers soon tied the game 8-8 with a 3-pointer, his first of the night. Junior guard Elijah Stephens had a team-high eight assists and consistently got the ball to Rogers and the team’s shooters, who made an impressive 13 3-pointers during the game.
In the first half, the score went back and forth thanks to aggressive slashing from NJIT. The Eagles struggled defensively to stop NJIT guards Mekhi Gray and Sebastian Robinson, who both scored in double figures by driving to the rim. However, Gray’s 18 points and Robinson’s 15 points were not enough to make up for NJIT’s inability to contain Rogers, who dominated in the paint with 16 points in the first half. The 6’9” forward ultimately shot 12-18 during the game.
The Highlanders led 27-26 with 5:57 left in the first half, but soon the Eagles gained momentum from an impactful 3-pointer from senior guard Lorenzo Donadio and a series of successful post ups from Rogers. The Eagles ultimately went on a 13-2 run and led 45-39 at halftime.
Senior guard Colin Smalls had 8 points at the half and made two key 3-pointers to add on to the lead. The Eagles’ offensive rebounding also helped them throughout the game, with the team getting 17 second-chance points, many of which came from Rogers.
At the beginning of the second half, NJIT continued to attack the rim through Gray and Robinson, chipping away at the Eagles’ lead. The Highlanders narrowed the score to 53-51 with 15:00 left in the second half.
Despite this push, the Eagles built up another considerable lead due to NJIT’s foul trouble and Rogers’ dominance down low. With 18:49 left, Rogers had an exciting two hand dunk off another assist from Stephens. The Eagles also capitalized at the free-throw line, taking advantage of being in the bonus due to NJIT’s 13 fouls. With 3:18 left in the second half, the Eagles led 77-66, and it was clear that NJIT had no answer for Rogers. The Eagles finished the half with an 87-73 victory, marking the team's second successful home game.
Rogers felt that the win came from the work that the team has been putting in during practice.
“We go over this stuff every day, getting to certain spots, getting to your spots that you’d like to shoot and just being able to share the ball the way that we do,” Rogers said. “[Head coach Duane Simpkins] just puts a lot of selflessness in us and it’s really great.”
Donadio was also satisfied with the way the team was able to create shots by moving the ball.
“I feel like we just had fun together. We just shared the ball. We were always trying to get the best shot possible,” Donadio said.
Both Rogers and Donadio appreciate the culture of selflessness that Simpkins has already created for the team.
“We’ve been talking to our guys about playing for one another,” Simpkins said. “We don’t have selfish guys, and then sometimes you just need to know their awareness sometimes like ‘hey, that's a good shot, but we can get a better one if we just pass one more.’ And I thought we really did. This is one of the best teams that I’ve been a part of that shared the basketball during the course of the game.”
Rogers had a dominant night in the post, scoring 28 points and securing 11 rebounds for a double-double. In the win, the Eagles also showcased their depth, with five players scoring in double digits. Donadio and sophomore guard Geoff Sprouse both contributed 10 points, while Smalls and Stephens added 11 points each.
The Eagles will travel to face Harvard in Boston on Nov. 29.
This article was edited by Penelope Jennings, Delaney and Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Isabelle Kravis, Olivia Citarella and Luna Jinks.