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American hopes to regroup and get back on track

February 20, 2014 Columns No Comments

BOSTON – For American, it looked like a storybook run through the Patriot League. They had ten straight wins, including a blowout of the team picked to win it all, with a well-oiled machine offensively. They found a way to keep winning with a bunch of new guys and a new coaching staff. Pardon the expression, because it’s too easy, but the Eagles were flying high.

And now they are coming back to earth – quickly.

The Eagles have now lost four of five after losing 71-62 at Boston University on Wednesday night. They had a chance to tie the Terriers in the standings and, by virtue of two head-to-head wins, be in the lead for the top seed in the league tournament. Instead, they head back to the nation’s capital going very much in the wrong direction. And whether or not they can reverse it is perhaps debatable.

“I think we are wearing down a bit, but that’s who we are,” said head coach Mike Brennan. “That’s how we need to play to win games. These guys are wearing down, but they’re used to it. That impacts it, but that’s who they are, that’s who we are.”

For American, it’s generally all about offense. When the Eagles are on, they have been tough to beat. When they are off, on the other hand, they are mere mortals. It’s not because of defense, as that has generally been constant; their field goal percentage is almost identical overall and in league play, as well as forced turnovers. In Wednesday night’s Patriot League showdown, it was about something else: possessions. The Eagles lost that big, and with it the game.

In the first half, American looked like they have for much of Patriot League play. They shot over 59 percent from the field, including 3-6 from long range. They moved the ball in a textbook fashion, with decisive passing and good movement without the ball, and as a result got a lot of quality shots that they turned into baskets. They led by ten on more than one occasion. The undoing was turnovers late in the half, as that allowed Boston University to get back into the game by scoring the last eight points of the half.

Turnovers wouldn’t be as much of an undoing in the second half as offensive rebounds. The Eagles got just five all game while surrendering 24 to the Terriers. BU rebounded more than half of their own misses, as American had just 19 defensive boards. The Terriers had a 14-5 edge in second-chance points, which went along with their 15-6 edge in points off turnovers as they turned it over just ten times.

“Offensive rebounds really kind of sunk us tonight,” said senior Tony Wroblicky. “We, myself included, need to do a much better job of boxing out and keeping them off the glass.”

Wroblicky had 13 points and seven rebounds, and at times scored easily in the first half. But he battled foul trouble in the second half, and besides the rebounding issues he didn’t get many touches in the second. He blocked three shots, so he was a factor, but BU shot 52.2 percent in the second half. The Eagles played good defense for a fair portion of the game, but didn’t finish defensive possessions and that was demoralizing.

American only plays six players significant minutes. Ten Eagles saw action on Wednesday, but only eight played seven minutes or more. This is their pattern, and it’s how they’re constructed. They have to ride with what they have, and a lack of depth is part of it. That means they have to cut down on turnovers, a season-long problem as they give the ball away 14 times a game on average, and have to make Wednesday night an aberration on the glass. Winning the possession battle will be big.

The good thing for the Eagles is that they have at least a couple of days off in between games in the Patriot League Tournament. That will allow for some rest so as to remain fresh in later rounds if they should advance, and that would mitigate the problem that less depth may be posing right now.

But first, the Eagles need to get back on track. They are having an over-achieving season based on what many projected for them. The question now is if they have already peaked, or can reach a higher level after a short drop.

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