By Torrance Latham
BU News Service
Led by the backcourt play of Jalen Rhea and Delante Jones, the American University men’s basketball team upset Boston University, 69-64, on Thursday night at Case Gym in the Patriot League quarterfinals.
Battling injuries throughout the season, and using 14 different lineups, BU (18-14 overall, 11-8 in conference) began the game with a noticeable lack of energy and played unusually passive. In the first half, the Terriers were out-rebounded 16-11 and failed to get to the free throw line.
“I need to do a better job,” BU Head Coach Joe Jones said, “My team should not come out flat and shouldn’t come out passive without the sense of urgency that it takes to win. It’s not that they didn’t want to win, we just need to be able to understand how we need to go out and get this done. That’s on me. I have to do a better job.”
American (12-18 overall, 10-9 in conference) used clutch free throw shooting in the second half to hold off the Terriers to advance to the semifinals for the fourteenth time in its 15 season in the Patriot League.
The Eagles are now 6-1 in the PL tournament under third-year Head Coach Mike Brennan.
All-Patriot League First team honoree Junior Eric Fanning led all scorers with 18 points (6-13), but could not capitalize at the line, shooting 6-12 for the game. A microcosm of the team’s free throw line woes (9-20) in the contest.
Besides Fanning, sophomore Cheddi Mosely (12 points) and senior John Papale (11 points) both finished with double figures.
American senior Jesse Reed, a second team All-Patriot League member, posted a double-double with 11 points and a game-high 12 rebounds. Rhea ignited the Eagles off the bench to score 15 points, shooting an efficient 4-5 from the 3-point line. As a team, American shot 24-of-50 (48%) from the field as opposed to 24-for-55 (43%) for the Terriers.
AU played solid defense all night, never allowing BU to get a rhythm going on offense.
“When you’re in their shoes and you’re playing on the road, I think they did a great job of making the game be played the way that they wanted,” says BU senior guard John Papale. “We had flashes of runs but it was just one of those nights where things just seemed to not go our way.”
AU came out firing to start the game, as they took an early 9-3 lead behind seven points from junior center Paris Maragkos.
Still trailing 23-18 with just under ten minutes remaining in the first half, junior forward Dylan Haines fed found sophomore Nick Havener under the basket for a layup that launched a 7-0 spurt in which Moseley’s three tied the game at 23 with 7:02 remaining.
However, AU followed suit with a 10-2 run of their own, taking a six-point lead into the half.
BU kept chomping at the bit, cutting into their deficit after a three by Mosley made it 35-34 score.
But American, like most of the night, responded with a 9-0 run to take a commanding 49-39 lead with 11:38 left in regulation.
Fanning kept BU afloat, scoring seven straight points, including a rim-rocking jam that brought the Terrier crowd to their feet.
American resiliently fought through the boisterous crowd at the Roof that smelled blood, holding BU without a basket for four and a half minutes.
“We were very passive. That’s just not us. We have to give them credit. They (did) beat us, but that’s just not us,” a visibly frustrated Jones lamented. In a game like this, it’s hard to win. I thought it was more just that we didn’t go after it enough. That’s the thing that’s going to eat at you forever.”
Capping off that impressive defensive stretch with senior forward Marko Vasic’s layup with 3:58 to play gave the Eagles a decisive 12 point lead.
BU continued to fight, cutting the deficit to four (66-62) with 43 seconds remaining in regulation on a layup by Fanning.
But Jones made timely free throws (5-6 on the night) to put the game on ice.
Though the result was not what he envisioned, Papale found a way to reflect and appreciate how his teammates banded together over the course of an injury-riddled season.
“You don’t want to lose, especially at home in a game like this. But I think we grew a lot this year from last year. I think a lot of the younger guys stepped up big time with some of the injuries we’ve had. No one ever complained, it was always the next man up. At the end of the day, I’ll always be proud of this season and being able to play with these guys.”
The Terriers will now have play the waiting game to see if they are granted a postseason invite. BU made it to the CBI semifinals in 2010 and participated in the CIT in 2013.