The American University men's basketball earned a hard-fought victory in Annapolis, Md., on Wednesday night, downing Navy, 64-55. The victory guarantees AU a top-two spot in the Patriot League Tournament with one game left in the regular season.
For only the second time in program history, the Eagles have reached the 13 conference win plateau. It is also only the second time in AU's 13-year history in the Patriot League in which they have reached the mark, as American's 2009 NCAA Tournament team went 13-1 in league play.
It was a back-and-forth battle with the Midshipmen as the lead changed hands eight times with four ties. The Eagles took a one-point lead, 27-26, into the break, but Navy stormed back to take the lead, 38-36.
The two teams traded baskets midway through the second before junior guard John Schoof knocked down two free throws to put AU up, 43-42; a lead they would not relinquish, closing out the final two minutes of the game on a 10-4 run.
"All league games are like this tonight. It's the second time around and the familiarity with eachother becomes more apparent and you just have to grind it out," said head coach Mike Brennan. "I was pleased with our defensive effort and we really needed it cause we were forced to defend more because of our turnovers. In the end we made the plays down the stretch to pull it out."
The Eagles had 18 turnovers in the contest which led to 18 points for Navy, but AU countered, scoring 15 points off Midshipmen miscues while holding the Naval Academy to only 4-of-18 attempts from beyond the arc.
While American's defense was staunch at the perimeter, its own 3-point shooting was a key to victory as the Eagles knocked down 10 from long range, led by Schoof's four.
Three other AU players also registered two or more triples including junior guard Austin Carroll who hit two off the bench for American in a conference season high 14 minutes. He was joined by Jesse Reed and Darius Gardner with two 3-pointers each.
While four Eagles reached double-digit scoring, it was the AU bench play of Carroll and rookie Charlie Jones that sparked American's second-half surge. Jones finished the game with six points, four rebounds, two assists, a block and a steal in 20 minutes of action.
With 7:11 remaining the in the second half, Navy closed to within one point of the Eagles, 45-44, but Jones answered with a highlight-reel, above-the-rim offensive rebound and lay-in which gave AU some breathing room.
Navy refused to back down however, closing to within three points, 54-51, with 1:59 left, but again Jones was involved, finding Schoof for the first of back-to-back 3-pointers which put the game squarely in the Eagles' favor.
Schoof finished tied with Gardner with a team-high 15 points, while adding five rebounds and four assists. "Pee Wee" also posted a well-rounded line of five rebounds, four assists, a steal and a block.
American returns to Bender Arena in the regular season finale for a pivotal matchup on Senior Day, this Saturday. Having locked up a top-two seed in the playoffs, AU can seal the Patriot League regular season title with a win against Bucknell and a Boston U. loss at Holy Cross.