The American League may have the best college basketball team in the capital

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


Sitting in the hallway outside the American University locker room late Sunday afternoon, Matt Rogers and Johnny O’Neal, talking about the tight game they just had, each had a different take on the huge problem they dealt with late in the contest.

“It was frustrating,” Rogers said. “I mean, I put myself in this position that I had to get out. Watching from the bench is hard.”

“It didn’t bother me much,” O’Neill insisted. “I really thought the other guys would step up and make the plays we need.”

In fact, the backups have been done on the American bench Just Enough plays to shut down Boston University, 76-74, at bustling Bender Arena. The Eagles led almost the entire game but had to hold on for dear life in the dying seconds.

The win brought their record to 12-3 and – most importantly – 4-0 in the Patriot League. A year ago, the American won 10 matches sum and finished 5-13 in conference play. Just over a week into 2023, the Eagles are still a long way off into 2022.

“It’s better than the alternative,” coach Mike Brennan joked when asked about the conference’s 4-0 start. “We’ve got two wins here, which is great, but it’s still early. Very early.”

She got into America late last season. After two wins at the start of the season, the Eagles lost seven in a row and 10 of 12. “It’s been a very long, slow season,” O’Neal said. “I felt like it took forever. It was…” He paused, searching for a word.

O’Neill nodded. “This year, it feels like the season is going by so quickly. It’s hard to believe we’re already halfway through our schedule.”

win does that. The win will also see 2,679 people In your building on sunday january Between classes—the largest home crowd in America in over a decade—thanks in part to it being an elementary school day, and in part to a consistently winning team.

The differences for this American team are depth and experience, things the Eagles have lacked in recent years. Once upon a time, Brennan wasn’t very confident in his seat, often keeping his starters on the floor for upwards of 35 minutes. 1 season, former starting point guard Darius “Pee Wee” Gardner She averaged over 38 minutes a game, thanks to several overtime contests.

The only Eagle to play more than 30 minutes on Sunday was freshman point guard Jeff Sprouse, with 33. Rogers and O’Neal, the team’s leading scorers, both played in fewer than 30 minutes because of that problem.

However, the American won again, this time because the bench produced 37 points and 12 rebounds in 58 minutes. There was a time when bench numbers for the entire season would have been out.

“There’s no question we wouldn’t win this game without the depth we’ve got now,” Brennan said. “This year, we have some experience, so we feel as if we can get to the last four minutes, we have a good chance of winning. Last year there were nights where we got to eight.” [minutes left] But the transition from eighth to fourth was difficult. Sometimes the transition from eight to seven was difficult.

The Eagles were hitting zero, while still leading, consistently. After losing their first two games, they’ve now won 12 out of 13, including wins over Georgetown and George Washington – both on the road. The win over the Hoyas was the first victory over the DC Masters since 1982, when Patrick Ewing was Georgetown’s center.

“Going out there and winning at their stadium was electric for us,” O’Neal said. “I mean, 40 years is a long time. It was an amazing feeling.”

Say all you want about it The current woes of Georgetown: Patriot League team is Not You’re supposed to go to the Big East building and get a win.

Sunday’s win over a strong-minded, experienced BU team was a visit to the dentist for much of the second half. The Terriers have a real superstar in Walter Whyte, who is listed as 6-foot-6 and 215 pounds but looks almost impossibly larger and stronger.

“A monster,” Brennan described.

Every time it looked like the Americans might take over, White made a play. He scored 23 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, and got the Eagles into serious trouble.

The American bench saved, particularly 7-foot Dane freshman Jermaine Balisiger Webb, who contributed eight key points during a 15-minute game. Another key player to come off the bench was junior guard Colin Smalls, a starter a year ago who missed eight games early in the season with lower back problems that still make it difficult for him to practice. He scored 13 points – all in the second half – and made several key shots down the stretch.

Brennan is right about one thing: It’s early. But this is clearly a team heading in the right direction. All five starters are underclassmen, and only two seniors are part of the rotation. The Eagles were 16-14 in 2019-20, when they were tied for second in the conference. But they were back to square one a season later, with a group of rookies who only played 10 games in that coronavirus-hit season. Then came last season, where the sophomores learned on the job and took a lot of blocks along the way.

Now, with seven juniors and two graduate students providing depth and leadership off the bench and two freshmen – Ballisager Webb and Sprouse – already showing great potential, the Eagles appear to be back where they were when Brennan arrived 10 years ago and the Gardner-led roster won the league championship. And Reached the NCAA Tournament.

Brennan is 50 now, and after Sunday’s game, he looked every minute of it. He lost his longtime mentor and advisor, Pete Carell, last summer When Hall of Fame coach Princeton passed away at age 92. Brennan was a writer for four years for Creel in the 1990s, and The two remained close until Karel’s death.

Carell often visited Washington and would come and watch the Eagles practice, spending a lot of time telling Brennan what he thought of his team while also giving advice to the players individually.

One of Carril’s favorites was a 7-foot prospect that nearly disappeared when he turned sideways. Carell called it the “impossible dream” because he saw potential in it. That dream didn’t come true, but there’s no doubt that Carell would have seen a reason to dream with this team.

Indeed, at the moment nothing seems impossible for Karel’s former pupil and his current squad of players.

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