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Men’s basketball loses thriller to Loyola Maryland

The Eagles fall short in extremely close game

On Feb. 7, the American University men's basketball team (13-11) suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the Loyola Maryland Greyhounds (5-19). The Eagles lost 44-43, after a brief comeback in the second half. 

American came into the game on a high, having just eked out a win against Bucknell 75-66 in overtime. However, the team also came in dealing with injuries to four of their key role players. Entering Wednesday, the Eagles were without junior starting point guard Elijah Stephens, along with productive bench players sophomore guard Geoff Sprouse, senior guard Colin Smalls and sophomore center Jermaine Ballisager Webb

Despite their injury woes, AU was expected to take care of business against a Loyola Maryland team with only four wins on the year. However, right off the bat things started out slow for the Eagles, and they didn’t hit a shot for the first five minutes of the game. By the time they did, with a Matt Rogers layup, they were already down 2-6. 

A few minutes later, AU subbed out their starters, and due to injuries were forced to look to the end of their bench for production. Senior guard Chris Gleaton and sophomore guard Adrian Samuels checked in, two players who had previously combined for only 16 minutes the entire season. Gleaton, a walk-on, had only been to three practices. Their lack of experience showed, and sloppy play by the bench forced all five Eagles starters to play almost the entire game, with no starter playing under 31 minutes.

The teams traded baskets for a few minutes, and halfway through the first half, two major game trends emerged. AU was 0-5 on three-pointers, and Loyola Maryland guard Deon Perry already had 9 points. 

Five minutes later, AU still had not gotten much going, and they were down 23-12, with five minutes left in the first half. At this point, they were 0-9 from behind the arc and had only really found success banging in contested shots under the basket. Coming out of a media timeout, Rogers finally broke the three-pointer drought, bringing the score to 23-15. Freshman forward Matt Mayock followed with an athletic two-pointer, and for the first time all game, the robust crowd of just under 1,000 started getting loud. However, Perry quickly silenced them with an impossible-looking shot with defenders all over him, followed by a Loyola Maryland three.

Entering halftime, AU was down 28-19, but at that point, a margin that modest felt like a blessing. The Eagles were getting outrebounded 21-12, and they were shooting a shocking 1-15 from three. Aside from Perry, who had 14, the Greyhounds didn’t look too hot either, as they had shot an underwhelming 34.5% from the field, only one percentage point better than the Eagles.

The second half opened in a similar fashion to the first, with two quick Loyola Maryland buckets. A Lorenzo Danadio jumper helped stem the bleeding, but mistakes from the bench, good play by Perry, and a silly foul led to Loyola Maryland taking a 23-36 lead five minutes into the second half, their largest of the game.

At the Eagles’ lowest point all night, walk-on Gleaton gave them some life, in a sequence where he got a steal, made a fast-break layup, and then got a block in less than 30 seconds. This was the point where momentum started to turn, and the crowd reentered the game following a highly contested Lincoln Ball layup that brought the score to 27-36. 

AU’s defense then began locking down on Perry, forcing the ball from his hands, and making his teammates take shots. This strategy worked, as the rest of the Greyhounds’ roster continued to struggle, scoring only three points over the last 15 minutes of the game. Donadio also began heating up, and he pushed the tempo with some hard-fought fastbreak points.

With ten minutes left in the game, Rogers made a layup, cutting the Eagles’ deficit to 4, the closest the game had been since its first few minutes. The Eagles continued to get outrebounded, but solid defense mixed with poor Loyola Maryland shooting kept them in the game. AU stayed on their run, and when a few minutes later Donadio sprinted down the court to put one in the hoop and cut the deficit to one, the crowd went wild.

Still, things soon began to revert back to the trends that had been dictating the entire game: AU missed more threes, and Perry drew two big fouls that gave him five free throws, all of which he hit.

With the score at 36-41, and four and a half minutes left in regulation, Mayock hit AU’s second three of the game, bringing the Eagles back into striking distance. A few possessions later, AU tied things up, and soon after that, they took their first lead of the game when Mayock made both of his shots in a 1-and-1. The crowd went wild, giving the starters who had played almost the entire game much-needed energy.

AU was on a 9-0 run, and things were feeling good with just under two minutes left in regulation. However, at long last someone other than Perry made something happen for the Greyhounds: guard Jordan Stiemke made a bucket while drawing a foul, giving Loyola Maryland a one-point lead with a minute left. 

The tension in Bender Arena was palpable, with the entire student section screaming, on their feet. Rogers brought the ball down the floor but turned it over when three Greyhound defenders collapsed on him in the paint. Following a timeout, AU prevented Loyola Maryland from scoring, and the Eagles called a timeout of their own down 43-44 with the ball and 23 seconds left on the clock. 

Head coach Duane Simpkins drew up a play to get Rogers the ball under the hoop, but a deflection instead sent the ball flying out of bounds across the baseline. A review ensued for what felt like hours, with all of Bender still on its feet. AU was finally granted the ball with 7.2 seconds left on the clock, and Simpkins this time designed a play to get Donadio the ball driving towards the basket. However, a complete switch-up in a defensive scheme by the Greyhounds threw off AU’s plans, and the ball instead ended up in the hands of the second option, Mayock, standing in the corner. With 3 seconds left, Mayock let it fly. And Mayock missed.

The air came out of Bender in what was likely the most exciting low-scoring game that most people in the arena had seen. AU had fought hard, but ultimately, could not overcome the fact that they only had 2 points from their bench all game, shot 2-25 from three and got outrebounded 30-36. 

After the game, Simpkins said that the injuries hurt. “We played hard, we took the ball out of Perry’s hands, we manufactured points on transitions … But we missed the guys who weren’t there.”

Elijah Stephens, the injured starting point guard for the Eagles, was especially missed for his offensive production.

“He makes the defense collapse and break down and he kicks the ball out. He sets the table for the other guys. We missed that a lot.” Simpkins said.

Looking forward, the Eagles are going on the road to play games against Holy Cross and Navy. When asked how he felt moving into those games, Simpkins said he felt good. 

“Our guys these last three games have competed together. They've played hard together. If we continue to do that, we’ll do good.”

The Eagles return to Bender Arena on Feb. 17 at 4 p.m. to take on the Lafayette Leopards. In a message to the fans, Simpkins said “Keep coming out.”

This article was edited by Penelope Jennings, Delaney Hoke and Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Luna Jinks and Ariana Kavoossi.

sports@theeagleonline.com 


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