Five key plays: Lehigh 83, American 76

American lost at Lehigh Wednesday night to drop to 8-8, 2-3 in the Patriot League. Here are five key plays/sequences from the game.

1. Lehigh roasts American in the paint
We knew coming in that Lehigh is the best 3-point shooting team in the country and American closed out well on Mountain Hawks shooters, but the Eagles forgot to defend the interior in the first half. The Hawks repeatedly beat the Eagles off the dribble for easy layups. AU’s screen-and-roll defense continued to struggle, too, as poor hedges and recoveries resulted in easy passes for layups for Lehigh. This was probably American’s worst defensive half of the season.

2. American doesn’t help itself with first-half turnovers
While Lehigh scored at ease on one end, American hurt itself with seven first-half giveaways — mostly unforced — on the other end. While American isn’t as bad turning it over as some narratives have painted, it has the seventh-worst turnover rate in Patriot League play — squandering 18% of its possessions.

3. Defense spurs comeback
This was the defensive effort we were expecting from the Eagles. In the second half, American did many of the things that have made it a very good defensive team — using active hands to poke away balls and create transition opportunities. Larry Motuzis made two plays, Stacy Beckton Jr. had two, and Sam Iorio added a block for the team with the second-best block percentage in Patriot League play. AU’s defense turned a 16-point deficit into a one-possession game late.

4. Stacy Beckon Jr. is again American’s spark
As has been the case in many wins, the sophomore guard sparked American’s second-half push and did it in a variety of ways. Beckton got to the basket, drove smoothly into a mid-range jumper, and then hit a huge 3 that had American within two, 70-68. Beckton finished with 16 points, 13 of them in the second half.

5. Lehigh hits tough shots to seal deal
You can’t fault American’s defense down the stretch — Lehigh just made difficult shots. First, Jordan Cohen beat Beckton for a reverse layup. Then Lance Tejada finished an extremely difficult runner over Motuzis. And after an American miss, Cohen made a pull-up jumper over Beckton for a 76-70 lead. A fastbreak layup later, this one was basically over. American let another golden opportunity to steal a road game slip away.