For only the third time in program history, the American University men's basketball was in the NCAA Tournament, playing as the No. 15 seed against No. 2 Wisconsin. It was a virtual home game for the Badgers at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wis., as AU's dream season came to an end on Thursday afternoon, 75-35.
The Eagles (20-13) played well early, overcoming an 8-2 deficit, using a 15-2 run that included 12-straight points, as AU built its largest lead of the game, 17-10. American held the lead with minutes left in the half and despite a furious comeback by UW; were within single digits of Wisconsin (27-7) until the final seconds of the initial stanza.
The Badgers ended the half on a 9-0 and kept the momentum going into the second using a strong defensive effort in the final 25 minutes that kept the game out of reach for American.
"Obviously, Wisconsin is a really good team. I wish we could have made it a better game today, representing ourselves and the league a little better. But Wisconsin has dismantled some really good teams this year. They're a No. 2 seed for a reason," said first-year head coach Mike Brennan. "But I give our guys a ton of credit for the year that they had. It's a tough loss, but these guys had a terrific year. Our guys worked really hard all year. We learned a lot throughout the season and you just keep learning as you move along."
After a strong 15 minutes of play, in which AU went 7-of-11 from the field, the Eagles fell off the mark, missing on 17 of its next 19 attempts. Wisconsin's defensive pressure forced 17 American miscues that resulted in 16 points for the Badgers. UW also benefited from a 28-10 disparity in points in the paint.
Wisconsin clicked offensively in the second half, knocking down 57.7 percent (15-of-26) of its shots, while also hitting 13-of-14 free throws for the game.
American, which entered the game ranked seventh nationally in field goal percentage this season, shot 29.7 percent (11-of-37) from the field in its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2009 while Wisconsin made half of its attempts.
Senior center Tony Wroblicky, playing in his final game for AU, scored a team-high 11 points, knocking down 5-of-6 (one-handed) free throws. He was joined by junior, and fellow co-captain, John Schoof who also scored 11 points, knocking down three 3-pointers with three rebounds and two steals.
Junior point guard Darius "Pee Wee" Gardner was everywhere for American, grabbing a game-high eight rebounds, despite being the smallest player on the court by four inches. Gardner added four points, three assists and a steal.
With shots not falling in the second for American, the Badgers continued to increase its lead in the final 20 minutes, hitting 7-of-10 made 3-pointers in the second period. Wisconsin also utilized its bench with 14 points off the pine, led by Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year Nigel Hayes with six.
"This is new for all our players – playing a team of this caliber… It's a good learning experience for our guys and I'm sure they'll remember it. But I'm proud of what they were able to accomplish this year," said Brennan.
The dream season may be over for American, a team picked ninth in the preseason conference poll, but the 2014 Patriot League Champions return 93 percent of its roster next season, with Wroblicky, the team's lone senior, the only loss.
Wroblicky finishes his career as the program's all-time leading shot blocker (151), playing in more games than any player to wear the AU red and blue with 125.