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Saturday, March 9, 2024
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Men’s basketball falls to Lafayette 68-62

Elijah Stephens’ return not enough to win the day

The American University men’s basketball team (14-13) lost to the Lafayette Leopards (11-16) in Bender Arena on Feb. 17 with a final score of 68-62. This game featured the return of junior guard Elijah Stephens, who missed the team’s three most recent games due to injury.

Lafayette and American came into this game as the #2 and #3 ranked teams in the Patriot League, respectively. American ended a two-game losing streak on Feb. 14 with a 59-42 road win at Navy, while the Leopards came to Bender looking for a win after a 79-64 home loss to Loyola Maryland on the same day. These teams previously faced off at Lafayette on Jan. 31, with the Eagles coming out on top by a score of 69-66.

The first half of this game saw 11 of the game’s 15 lead changes take place. Lafayette held the lead in the first half for 11 minutes as opposed to American’s seven. Senior forward Matt Rogers accounted for just under half of the Eagles’ offense in the first half, putting up 10 points. Freshman forward Matt Mayock also made major contributions, notching 9 points. At the end of the first half, a costly turnover from the Eagles gave the Leopards a free shot, giving them a 27-26 lead. 

American came out swinging in the second half. A quick layup from senior guard Lincoln Ball put the Eagles back in striking distance of the lead, before two consecutive second-chance scores from freshman forward Greg Jones gave the Eagles a 35-33 lead early on in the second half. The fans gathered in Bender erupted after the second score from Jones, a 3-pointer set up off of a steal from Stephens.

Seeing the momentum shift, Lafayette slowed the game down, letting the shot clock run down before taking shots. For every 3-pointer that Lafayette made, the Eagles only came up with a layup or jumper in the paint. The general scoring drought let the Leopards build up a lead as the clock ticked down. A late layup from Rogers along with free throws from he and Mayock brought the game within 4 points before the Eagles started fouling. 

With little time left on the clock, the Eagles’ only chance was for Lafayette to miss free throws then take the ball and score points quickly, but two made free throws from Lafayette ended the game, the final score sitting at 68-62.

Rogers led American in scoring with 17 points, closely followed by Mayock with 16. Rogers also posted a team-leading seven rebounds, followed by Ball and Jones, who both put up six.

“Tip the hat to Lafayette, they beat us. Our plan is to never beat ourselves, but make the other team beat us, and Lafayette did that today,” said Eagles head coach Duane Simpkins after the game. 

He praised Jones, who has seen more playing time recently after injuries to Stephens, sophomore center Jermaine Ballisager Webb, senior guard Colin Smalls and sophomore guard Geoff Sprouse. “[Jones] has been awesome. He’s grown into his role more than anyone else, being able to rely on him for more and more minutes every game has helped us out.” 

Simpkins lamented the team’s recent propensity to lose close games, having lost three of their last four games by margins of 6 or fewer points. He said “You look at free throws, and you look at turnovers at crucial times. We’re in the middle of February, competitive in conference play, so you always expect them to be close games.” 

The Eagles return home on March 2 to face the Navy Midshipmen at 2 p.m in their final game of the regular season. 

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

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