Five key plays: Lehigh 80, American 66

Lehigh gave American only its second double-digit loss of the year Wednesday, never trailing in an 80-66 thrashing at Bender Arena. See below for five key plays/sequences from the game.

1. Sa’eed Nelson’s struggles set the tone
American was not going to beat Lehigh for the first time in nine tries without its star guard being its star guard, so when Nelson struggled mightily early beginning with whiffing on a pass from Mark Gasperini, it was a bad omen for the night.

2. Sam Iorio picks up two early fouls in 10-second span
Despite the early sloppiness, American trailed just 6-3 coming out of the first media timeout. But then Sam Iorio picked up a charge, and on the following possession committed an obvious hand-check foul. Just like that, American’s second-leading scorer went to the bench. While Mike Brennan actually brought him back four minutes later, Iorio never got into the game and had his first scoreless game as an Eagle in his 53rd.

3. American just can’t score
We talked after the Army game Sunday about how smooth the American offense was. The Eagles were near flawless for stretches of that win. Well, Wednesday night’s performance was the opposite — possessions that didn’t end in turnovers often concluded in one-on-one contested shots while four players stood around. It’s one thing to miss shots; it’s another to take bad shots. That was the case for much of the night. American was 8-for-26 from the field in the first half, including 1-for-9 from 3, and trailed 36-22 at the break.

4. Second half starts out just as poorly as the first
Sometimes a halftime talk or adjustments changes things. That was not the case Wednesday. American again began the half with a pass through a guy’s hands. Lehigh quickly responded with a beautiful ally-oop layup. The Mountain Hawks continued to pick apart the Eagles with ball movement and sharp-shooting, and quickly expanded their lead to 23, 49-26. The game was effectively over with 14 minutes to play.

5. Lehigh snuffs out desperate AU rally
American did kind of get back in the game, aided by Lehigh turnovers (the Mountain Hawks gave it away 17 times despite just seven AU steals). A Nelson putback got the Eagles within 59-50 with still six minutes left. But a lot of energy was expended to get to that point, and the Mountain Hawks scores on four straight trips — punctuated by a baseline drive and dunk from Jeameril Wilson — to close out American. "I thought that was the first time we didn’t come out with like a good level of energy," Mike Brennan said afterward. "I thought even despite our losses, we’ve played well in our last X amount of games. I thought that was the first time where we looked just low-energy and didn’t play well.”