Five key plays: American 73, UMBC 69

Here are five, actually six (!), key plays/sequences from American’s 73-69 win at UMBC Saturday to boost the Eagles to 3-1.

1. American stays close without Sa’eed
The Eagles looked to be in trouble down 18-11 when their leader picked up a silly second foul, but instead American got closer during a crucial five-minute period midway through the first half with Nelson on the bench. This was a really important sign of progress for a team that has demonstrated through four games that it’s not entirely reliant on its star.

2. Turnover issues keep American trailing
The Eagles turned the ball over eight times, often due to sloppiness, which helped the Retrievers lead for much of the first half and build a 10-point lead early in the second half.

3. American’s point guards shoot lights out from 3
Who would’ve thought at the beginning of the season that Nelson’s and Stacy Beckton Jr’s 3-point shooting would be a strength for the Eagles, but that’s exactly what it’s been the last two games — especially at UMBC. The point guards combined for seven triples to keep American close and set up a frenetic final few minutes.

4. American grabs lead with late 7-0 burst
This spurt encapsulated how balanced American’s offense is. After UMBC took a 55-52 lead, the Eagles went down low to Mark Gasperini; Nelson scored on a fastbreak; and then two passes on the perimeter led to a Beckton 3 for a 59-55 lead. The Eagles weren’t home free yet, though.

5. Last-minute chaos
Just like the George Mason game, there was last-minute chaos that led to American losing a lead on the road in a loud environment. How would the Eagles respond?

Bonus: Sam Iorio game-winner
I’ve broken this down many times, and there are so many things to be impressed by. Did it remind you at all of Villanova’s possession to win the national championship in 2016? It’s not a terrible comparison (although Jay Wright needed a timeout; Mike Brennan did not call one). Brennan let the Eagles go, the floor was perfectly spaced, Iorio raised his hand before crossing halfcourt and left it up as a target for Nelson — who was charging down the left sideline with the ball — and Nelson made a perfect pass. Iorio caught it with feet set, and boom, game-winner. American is 3-1 for the first time since 2010-11.