AU stays close for a while

It was close for a while in College Park. American shot the lights out early, hitting 7-of-its-first 9 from the field.

With seven minutes to go in the first half, the Eagles were up six.

Jeff Zrebiec fills in some of the details in the Baltimore Sun:
The Eagles, who had won five straight coming in but were beaten by the Terps by 31 last year, trailed by only two at halftime and then crept within 48-47 on a three-point play by Thomas with 13 minutes remaining.
What happened next depends on who you talk to.

Eric Prisbell in the Washington Post said:
Maryland needed a 16-0 run midway through the second half to finally grab control from the Eagles . . .

The Terps relied heavily on their press during the run, taking advantage of their depth.
We'll come back to that word "depth" in a moment.

Convinced of their absolute superiority, Maryland players gave little credit to AU.

"We came out flat," said the Terps' Nik Caner-Medley in the story in the Moonie.

He told Prisbell:
"I think we might have been a little too relaxed coming into the game. A little nonchalant."
Maryland's John Gilchrist blamed school work and Santa:
"We were coming off finals and the break was coming up. A lot of guys were thinking about Christmas. I know I personally was. It was just like one last stop before we get to see our families. That was the most difficult part.
We will defer to Matt over at the Patriot League Blog. He was at the game and when he gets past his pregame-preparations-and-first-half- enthusiasm-induced hangover (which was undoubtedly further enhanced by tear-diluted beers after), we are sure he will give us the scoop on what he saw.

Having seen a few of these games, where good Patriot League teams give the big kids a wedgie or two before finally getting beat up, my guess is he will tell us it was AU's good play, as much as any sleepwalking by Maryland, that accounted for the close game early.

Take a look at the first half box. AU shot 50 percent in the first half and only turned it over 6 times. In the second half, they shot only 40 percent and had almost twice as many turnovers.

Did Maryland turn it up in the second half. Probably. But the bigger factor was more likely, as Jeff Jones pointed out in the Post, what happened to the Eagles late in the game.
"I think we got worn down," American Coach Jeff Jones said. "Maryland just kept coming at us and I think Gary saw that we looked a little bit tired and put on the press and we didn't respond."
Remember I said we would get back to talking about depth. That continues to be the one thing that keeps me from penciling in the Eagles as a bracket host in March. The starters are piling up a lot of minutes and the bench is not contributing much.

Look at the final box. Even though AU's reserves got far minutes than usual due to the Terps' big lead in the second half, they still only contributed 15 points combined.

A Jones quote that didn't make any of the game stories:
"We played pretty well for 30 minutes or so. We gave it an effort, but when you get tired, if you want to be able to compete against teams like this, you have to come up with a special effort. And that means even when your lungs are burning and your legs feel like lead, you still have to be able to think and you still have to be able to get up and down the court and do the things that you were doing prior to that."
We are not suggesting that a deeper bench would have resulted in AU beating Maryland. It is pretty common for the upper echelon teams to wear down opponents in buy games even when those opponents have some help coming off the pine. But the wear and grind of a season can do that, too. Therein lies the concern about AU.

Unless the bench starts to step up, this could be a recurring theme, especially in that late February stretch of the conference schedule when the Eagles play four in a row on the road.

That stretch starts with a home game Feb. 6 with Holy Cross, which you just know will be a big game. Then the Eagles head north for a Bucknell-Colgate swing. That Colgate game, in particular, looks like a potential trouble spot. Hamilton is never a fun spot, let alone on the tail end of a two-game trip. Add in the fact that AU will face the Raiders after back-to-back games with Holy Cross and Bucknell, and the makings of a letdown game are all there.

The following week they head to the Lehigh Valley, where about that time Lafayette should be coming together and in full upset mode in Kirby and Lehigh, even though they have been disappointing thus far, won't be a gimme.

OVERTIME: Rather than add on a bunch of game notes, we'll just give you a link to Maryland's fine postgame notes page. It's no wonder so many writers want to cover the big time schools. The SIDs at those places almost write your story for you.

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