Mike Brennan and players Jesse Reed and Jalen Rhea spoke to the media after American's 72-65 win over Navy, the Eagles' third consecutive victory to boost their record to 10-18, 8-9 in the Patriot League.
On the 17-0 run in the second half
"I think we were just being more aggressive going to the basket in the second half and then Jesse made a couple shots that are just — step-back 3 with a guy all over him, it's like he makes that and they drew up something against our zone where they got an open look and they just didn't go in. Sometimes you just gotta be lucky where you make some shots and they miss some shots. That could be the difference. But our guys were just a little more aggressive in the second half."
On switching to the 2-3 zone
"They were going inside and everyone's about to foul out trying to guard the guy (Will Kelly). We haven't played zone in a while so we tried it for a possession, looked OK, they called the timeout — they got that wide-open shot. They got open shots, they just missed against the zone. So that's why it worked."
Even a month ago is team capable of this kind of comeback?
"Yeah I told them that. That's a heck of a thing to be down 14 and to be at this point of the season and to muster up the energy to fight back. I don't think — a month ago we didn't have the confidence to get something like that or just the experience. So it's a big growth step for all of us."
On late offense
"We were just trying to get stuff going to the basket, post-ups — we were posting up a few different guys, post up Jesse, post up Marko, post up Delante and then we got some drives too. It wasn't just launching threes. With Jesse and Delante, pick and choose, and Charlie got a couple big drives too. And Jalen at the end of the drives sometimes we had to kick it out and we were able to make some shots off that stuff."
On Delante's fourth foul and him needing to realize value to team
"Yeah, absolutely. You'd rather give up the two, have Delante out there, but that's another thing that he has to learn, get used to, he's trying to defend, he's trying to make a play on the ball. That's something that a veteran — a veteran would be able to make that play and make that determination."
On the back and forth, unpredictable nature of the Patriot League
"Yeah, I mean every team's equal. Every team plays really hard, they run their stuff, they're well-coached at this point in the season, everyone knows what the other team's gonna do. So it's just a matter of just toughness. They were driving by us and they were finishing a lot of their drives and we weren't — I think we stopped their drives with the zone a little bit so that helped us a lot but at this point in the season it's just make shots, get rebounds, play harder each possession, stuff that coaches say all the time."
On what's been the biggest key in winning 8 of 11
"Obviously Delante and Jesse are scoring points but I think everybody's contributing on a given night. I mean we don't know — we need something from everybody, Andrija got two big rebounds in the last few minutes there, Jalen comes in and makes some big 3s, and Charlie just gives you what he gives you every night. So you just need everybody to be ready at any given time."
On Jesse's progression this season and finding the balance of looking for his offense vs. creating for others
"I give Jesse a ton of credit. He's been so consistent throughout the year and it was tough early on when I'm telling him, 'Pass the ball, pass the ball,' because he's wired to score and he feels like, 'I can score.' But he's gotten much better as a passer, and that's allowed these other guys to contribute and help him. So I think for him, for his game to sort of expand the way it has this year, it's just a testament to him and what he does on a daily basis in practice. It's hard to change your game but still have the scoring. He's done that."
On Delante shooting 70% at the rim, getting to the free-throw line frequently and showing poise like on the game-winning possession vs. Holy Cross
"He's got a good feel for the game, good knack for when to drive, he's usually pretty much under control when he drives. (If) he gets cut off, he doesn't sort of — he's got a counter. But he's just a good player and I thought he was — teams are playing us a little harder (on perimeter), so it's a little difficult to maybe pick and choose your spots. I think he was trying to drive a few times when he shouldn't have but him and Jesse have found a good balance. We need them to score, we need them to be aggressive, we need them trying stuff — so if they have a few turnovers here and there trying to do stuff, you've got to live with that because those are the guys who've gotta make plays."
More on the Patriot League and AU having a legitimate chance in the Patriot League tournament
"Everybody can beat everybody, we've known that. So we're just trying not to be the one to get beat. I mean, that's about it."
Is team capable of this kind of comeback even a month ago?
"I mean I think we've grown a lot on the court and off the court. Our chemistry's been great. We're starting to learn how to play for each other and fight for each other, dig in a little more. It just comes with experience. I don't know if a month ago we'd be able to pull that off; I don't know if yesterday we'd be able to pull that off. But today we dug deep and we found a way."
"I think it's a just a matter of playing together and everything coming together. We practice it every day and just waiting for that time for the pieces to fall together."
On holding Navy without a basket for 6 minutes down the stretch
"Just communicating and being there. When somebody gets beat, trying to help our teammates out and once they put a shot up, just rebounding and boxing out and making sure that we got the ball back and we're ready to go down and get a good shot on offense."
On holding Will Kelly (22 points) without a point the last nine minutes
"That's tough to do. I don't know how to explain that one."
On going to the 2-3 zone. What did coach say about going to the zone?
"I mean, he didn't really say why — he just said, 'Run 2' and we just stuck with it. At first he said, 'Run 2 for one possession,' and once we got a stop he was like, 'All right, stay in it.' Yeah, my guess was (to) try to neutralize them down low, we were getting beat up pretty bad down low and we couldn't really guard their post that well. So kind of packing it in a little bit and making it a little harder for them to catch the ball or get good position I think really helped us a lot."
Jesse, are you thinking about fact that games are winding down your senior season?
"Nah, I'm staying in the moment. I'm just trying to enjoy each day as it comes. I'll think about it being my senior year after I'm done, but right now we got games to play, we got practices to go through. I'm just trying to enjoy 'em as they come each and every day."
How important was getting dribble penetration late in the game?
"Yeah, our offense works great whenever we're working inside-out instead of just hanging around the perimeter. A lot of us were making good drives and finding guys wide open for shots. Jalen was able to come in and give us a spark — really knock down some big shots to help us get back in it. Just working inside-out really helps us a lot instead of just staying on the perimeter."
On being a game from finishing .500 in the league after starting 0-6
"It just comes back to coach Brennan telling us he's not going to judge us by wins and losses. It's just a matter of if we're getting better every day and I think the games down the stretch attest to that, that we just do what we practice, we're trying to win games and it's working out for us."
On how good Jalen is shooting from the corners. What is it about those spots?
"I think it's just in our offense where I happen to end up and drives come and the defense collapses and Jesse and Charlie and Delante and everybody are able to find me somehow in the corner and I just happen to be right there in the corner. I'm gonna keep shooting them, I know they'll keep finding me. I don't know what it is about the corner, but I'm going to try to stay close to the corner."
Jesse on if at all playing his final games as a senior is in back of mind and playing like it
"I mean it's hard not to think about but I just focus on hanging with these guys every day. I know the days are numbered so I'm really just trying to make the most of it. I'm not really thinking about, 'This is my last game here, this is my last game there.' It's more of just enjoying each and every day as they come and if unfortunately it does come to an end, I'll worry about that when the times comes. But until then I'm just gonna enjoy having fun with my brothers."
On feeling confident beating anyone in the league with tournament just around the corner
"Yeah I think the Patriot League, it's pretty much just whoever's night it is, it's pretty even. If it happens to be our night, I think we can make a run. We'll just have to wait and see."