Mike Brennan’s first season as American University’s head coach has been an unexpected joy ride. Continuing to defy preseason forecasts, the Eagles remained unbeaten in the Patriot League on Wednesday with an extraordinary shooting display en route to an 86-56 romp over preseason favorite Boston University at Bender Arena.
In a meeting of conference co-leaders, the Eagles (11-7, 7-0) set a program record by shooting 71.4 percent from the field (11 of 14 three-pointers) and won their eighth straight. They maintained their finest Patriot start since joining the league in 2001 and continued the best beginning to conference play since Gary Williams was in charge some 30 years ago.
“We knocked down a couple of shots to get the confidence up, and it makes you want to shoot more,” sophomore guard Jesse Reed said. “We kept making them.”
And didn’t stop.
The Eagles missed five of their first six field goal attempts; they missed seven the rest of the night. AU, picked to finish ninth among 10 teams, had more turnovers (18) than misses (12).
“We’ve got shooters,” junior guard Darius “Pee Wee” Gardner said, “so shooting isn’t a problem.”
Reed shot 8 of 9 and finished with 20 points, one shy of his career high.
Gardner, a 5-foot-9 transfer from Stephen F. Austin, had 18 and senior Tony Wroblicky added 17.
Reed and Gardner combined to make 8 of 9 threes. Sophomore Marko Vasic came off the bench to contribute 11 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists.
The searing accuracy broke the school mark set 32 seasons ago (69.7 against South Alabama).
Things went so well for the Eagles, Wroblicky, a 56.6 percent career shooter from the free throw line, made 7 of 7 with his one-handed attempts.
The Terriers (13-7, 6-1), who had won at Maryland and tested George Washington and Saint Joseph’s on the road, shot 21 percent in the second half and 32 percent overall.
Ninth in the nation in field goal percentage at 49 percent, the Eagles were 14 of 23 in the first half and 16 of 19 (5 of 5 three-pointers) after the break.
“Each of their individual games is getting better and we stress sharing the ball,” said Brennan, a former Georgetown assistant, whose team registered assists on all but one first-half basket and posted 22 overall.
“They are starting to get more comfortable running the offense and playing together and knowing when their opportunities are available.”
At the start, though, the Terriers were unfazed by the 15th stingiest defense in the country and took a 13-2 lead. The Eagles answered with 12 consecutive points, started and finished by Reed. Later, as the defense tightened, the Eagles used an 8-0 surge, capped by Reed’s three-pointer.
AU’s torrid three-point shooting continued: Gardner, then Vasic, and on a shot that touched the rim multiple times, Gardner struck again for a 14-point lead.
Ahead by 10 at intermission, AU started the second half with a 7-2 run and later put the outcome out of reach with a 13-2 spurt. Gardner’s acrobatic layup brought the crowd to its feet and a timeout from Terriers Coach Joe Jones.
In all, after the slow start, the Eagles outscored the Terriers 84-43.
The Eagles will face their stiffest road challenge Saturday at Army (10-8, 6-1).
“Our chemistry is starting to grow,” Reed said. “It was bound to happen sooner or later. It has worked its way through each and every day.”