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American University may need the very best school basketball crew in D.C.


Mike Brennan’s American crew improved to 12-3 after a 76-74 win over Boston University. (Julia Nikhinson for The Washington Post)


Matt Rogers and Johnny O’Neil sat within the hallway exterior American University’s locker room late Sunday afternoon, speaking in regards to the taut sport that they had simply performed in, every taking a special view of the foul hassle that they had handled late within the contest.

“It was frustrating,” Rogers mentioned. “I mean, I put myself in that position that I had to come out. Watching from the bench is tough.”

“It didn’t bother me that much,” O’Neil insisted. “I really believed the other guys would step up and make the plays we needed to make.”

Indeed, the backups on American’s bench made simply sufficient performs to carry off Boston University, 76-74, in a raucous Bender Arena. The Eagles led nearly the whole sport however needed to grasp on for expensive life within the closing seconds.

The victory raised their document to 12-3 and — extra vital — 4-0 within the Patriot League. A yr in the past, American gained 10 video games complete and completed 5-13 in convention play. A bit greater than per week into 2023, the Eagles are a great distance from 2022.

“It’s better than the alternative,” Coach Mike Brennan joked upon being requested in regards to the 4-0 convention begin. “We’ve eked out a couple of wins here, which is great, but it’s still early. Very early.”

It obtained late early final season for American. After two wins to begin the season, the Eagles misplaced seven in a row and 10 of 12. “It was a very long, slow season,” O’Neil mentioned. “It felt like it was taking forever. It was a …” He paused, trying to find a phrase.

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O’Neil nodded. “This year, it feels as if the season is flying by. It’s hard to believe we’re already halfway through our schedule.”

Winning does that. Winning will even put 2,679 individuals into your building on a January Sunday in between semesters — American’s largest house crowd in additional than a decade — thanks partly to it being elementary faculty day, thanks partly to a crew that’s successful persistently.

The variations for this American crew are depth and expertise, issues the Eagles have typically lacked in recent times. Once upon a time, Brennan had little confidence in his bench, typically holding his starters on the ground for 35-plus minutes. One season, former place to begin guard Darius “Pee Wee” Gardner averaged greater than 38 minutes a sport, due to a number of time beyond regulation contests.

The solely Eagle who performed greater than half-hour Sunday was freshman level guard Geoff Sprouse, with 33. Rogers and O’Neil, the crew’s main scorers, each performed beneath half-hour due to that foul hassle.

And but American gained once more, this time as a result of its bench produced 37 factors and 12 rebounds in 58 minutes. There was a time these might have been the bench’s numbers for the whole season.

“No doubt, we don’t win this game without the depth we’ve got now,” Brennan mentioned. “This year, we’ve got some experience, so we feel as if we can get to the last four minutes, we’ve got a decent chance to win. Last year, there were nights we got it to eight [minutes left] but getting from eight to four was hard. Sometimes getting from eight to seven was hard.”

The Eagles have been getting all the way in which to zero, whereas nonetheless in entrance, persistently. After dropping their first two video games, they’ve now gained 12 of 13, together with victories over Georgetown and George Washington — each on the street. The win over the Hoyas was the primary victory over the onetime lords of D.C. since 1982, when Patrick Ewing was Georgetown’s middle.

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“To go in there and win on their court for us was electric,” O’Neil mentioned. “I mean, 40 years is a long time. It was a great feeling.”

Say all you need about Georgetown’s present woes: A Patriot League crew is not supposed to enter a Big East constructing and are available away with a win.

Sunday’s win over a tough-minded, skilled BU crew was like a go to to the dentist for a lot of the second half. The Terriers have a real star in Walter Whyte, who’s listed as 6-foot-6 and 215 kilos however appears to be like larger and is nearly impossibly sturdy.

“A monster,” was how Brennan described him.

Every time it appeared American may achieve management, Whyte made a play. He scored 23 factors, had 11 rebounds and obtained the Eagles into foul hassle.

The bench saved American, notably 7-foot Danish freshman Jermaine Ballisager Webb, who contributed eight key factors whereas taking part in quarter-hour. The different key participant off the bench was junior guard Colin Smalls, a starter a yr in the past who missed eight video games early this season with decrease again points that proceed to make it troublesome for him to follow. He scored 13 factors — all within the second half — and made a number of key pictures down the stretch.

Brennan’s proper about one factor: It is early. But that is clearly a crew headed in the appropriate path. All 5 starters are underclassmen, and solely two seniors are a part of the rotation. The Eagles have been 16-14 in 2019-20, once they tied for second within the convention. But they have been again to sq. one a season later, with a spate of freshmen who obtained to play solely 10 video games in that coronavirus-afflicted season. Then got here final season’s slog, with the sophomore class studying on the job and taking a number of lumps alongside the way in which.

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Now, with seven juniors, two graduate college students who present each depth and management off the bench and two freshmen — Ballisager Webb and Sprouse — who’ve already flashed nice potential, the Eagles seem like again the place they have been when Brennan arrived 10 years in the past and the Gardner-led roster gained the league event and reached the NCAA event.

Brennan is 50 now and, after Sunday’s sport, appeared each minute of it. He misplaced his longtime mentor and adviser, Pete Carril, this previous summer time when the Hall of Fame Princeton coach died at 92. Brennan was a four-year starter for Carril within the Nineteen Nineties, and the 2 remained shut till Carril’s loss of life.

Carril typically visited Washington and would come and watch the Eagles follow, spending plenty of time telling Brennan what he considered his crew whereas additionally counseling gamers individually.

One of Carril’s favorites was a 7-foot prospect so slender he nearly disappeared when he turned sideways. Carril labeled him “the Impossible Dream,” as a result of he noticed potential in him. That dream didn’t come true, however there’s little question Carril would have seen motive to dream with this crew.

In truth, proper now, nothing appears to be like inconceivable for Carril’s former pupil and his present group of gamers.


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