The American University men's basketball team held an 11-point halftime lead but early foul troubles in the second half allowed St. Francis (Pa.) to fight its way back into the game and steal a 65-61 victory away from the Eagles in both team's season openers. Riley Grafft scored a career-high 14 points to lead the Eagles and was complimented by 10-point performances by Stephen Lumpkins and Nick Hendra.
Grafft scored six of American's (0-1) first eight points as the Eagles and Red Flash traded baskets to open the contest. Grafft's third basket gave American an 8-7 lead with 12:58 remaining but a Will Felder jumper on the ensuing possession put St. Francis (1-0) on top, 9-8. A Steve Luptak three-pointer with 9:02 on the clock began a 7-0 American run as the Eagles pushed their lead to 17-10. The stretch was capped off by a Simon McCormack reverse layup as Daniel Munoz found the sophomore streaking behind the defense in transition.
McCormack's basket sparked a hot streak for American's shooters as the Eagles made 7-of-7 shots to close out the half. Grafft and McCormack combined for six points over a 1:37 span, helping the Eagles to increase their lead to 23-13, and a Munoz jumper from the top of the key gave American a 29-17 cushion with 1:48 to play. Stephen Lumpkins made the final basket of the frame with a strong move in the low post, sending the Eagles into the intermission with a 31-20 lead.
Grafft led all scorers at the break, having already contributed a career-high 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting. The Eagles shot a combined 54.2 percent (13-24) in the first half while holding St. Francis to just 25.0 percent (8-32) from the floor.
Grafft picked up in the second half where he left off in the first, converting on a reverse lay-in off a Lumpkins feed to put American ahead, 34-23. Play on the court turned more physical as the game progressed though, putting both teams in early foul trouble and slowing the scoring pace. St. Francis was first to capitalize on the early bonus situation, knocking down six free throws during a 6-0 run to pull to within five on the scoreboard, 36-31. Felder cut the Red Flash deficit to three, 40-37, with 11:47 to play as he made three's on consecutive trips down the court and a Kurt Hoffman freebie with 9:45 remaining made it a two-point game, 40-38.
Nick Hendra hit his first three of the evening to regain a 43-38 American advantage but he was answered by consecutive baskets scored by Devin Sweetney and Felder to push the score to 43-42 with 8:08 on the clock. Felder's fourth basket of the second half finally put St. Francis over the top, 44-43, but only momentarily as McCormack stepped to the line and hit two free throws to tie the game at 45 with 6:55 to play.
American briefly regained the lead, 48-47, following a second Hendra trey but a 5-0 run by St. Francis created a 53-48 AU deficit with 4:16 remaining. Blake Jolivette hit a jumper off the dribble with just over three minutes to play, pushing the score to 53-50, and then forced a turnover which led to an old fashioned three-point play by Lumpkins, evening the score at 53. The two teams matched one another point for point in the final two minutes until a Felder three with 50 seconds gave St. Francis a 60-57 lead.
Munoz was able to bring American back to within one, 60-59, with a pair of free throws but Sweetney hit a pair of his own on the Red Flash's next trip down the court to make it a 62-59 game with just over 30 seconds remaining. The Eagles made it interesting by forcing a turnover following a Jolivette layup which brought the score to 62-61, but three free throws by the Red Flash in the final 11 seconds put the game away in favor of St. Francis, 65-61.
Grafft scored 12 of his team-high 14 points in the first half and finished the night making 7-of-10 shots from the field. Lumpkins and Hendra each added 10 points for the Eagles while McCormack netted eight.
"There were a lot of good things that we did tonight and I think that we got better," commented Head Coach Jeff Jones. "As the game progressed we had a chance to win, but it came down to St. Francis making the plays. It was a good experience for our guys but a shame that we couldn't figure out how to win the game."
American will make its home debut on Monday, November 16, against Albany at 7:30 p.m. Before the game, American will celebrate its 2009 Patriot League Championship and NCAA Tournament appearance in a special pregame banner raising ceremony and the first 2,500 fans in attendance will receive a free commemorative mini-banner courtesy of GEICO. Tickets to the game are on-sale now and can be purchased online by clicking here or by calling (202) 885-TIXX.