Easton, Pa. – For the second-straight game, senior point guard Pee Wee Gardner came up clutch for American University. After Lafayette roared back to tie the game at 76-all with 12 seconds left, Gardner hit the game-winning jumper with 0.3 seconds left on the clock for a 78-76 AU win. Pee Wee hit the buzzer-beating 3-pointer versus Lehigh on Wednesday night at Bender Arena.
American's offense came alive in the second half, shooting 70.4 percent from the field, knocking down 19-of-27 shots, finishing the game with his highest field goal percentage of the season at 60 percent.
The Eagles led by seven with 1:14 to play, but the Leopards came back with an 8-1 run to tie the game, setting up Gardner's heroics.
"Pee Wee is a special player and we are lucky to have him," said head coach Mike Brennan. "I thought we did well on offense today, but our defense let up late in the game. It was another Patriot League game that came down to two points and the final possession."
While Gardner may already own "Pee Wee" and "Iron Man" as nicknames, he may be trying to add "Mr. Clutch" to his lists of aliases. It is third game in a row the Houston, Texas native has hit a shot to win or send a game to overtime and AU is 3-0 in those games.
American improves to 4-1 in the New Year with its lone loss coming in overtime.
The Eagles also set season highs in field goal percentage, points, points in a half (45) and field goals made (30) while four players reached double-digit points for only the second time this season.
Gardner led way with a near-perfect game, scoring a season-high 19 points on 6-of-8 shooting, including 2-of-2 from distance and 5-of-5 at the free throw line. Pee Wee also added a season-high nine assists and chipped in four rebounds and two steals.
Sophomore Charlie Jones also played one of the best games of his young career, setting a personal best with 18 points, scoring 15 of them in second half. Jones also added a career high four steals, shooting 7-of-9 from the field and 2-of-2 from downtown.
Lafayette came out strong with its vaunted offense leading the Patriot League in several categories this season, starting the matchup 9-of-15 from the field. American was able to lock down on defense however, limiting the Leopards to just 4-of-16 attempts to end the half and take a 33-26 lead into the break.
Both teams were locked in during the second stanza, but AU's offensive efficiency was able to overcome the size of Lafayette.
Coach Brennan rolled for important stretches of the game with an undersized lineup, playing 6-foot-5 forward Marko Vasic at the five. Vasic responded with six points, five rebounds, a 3-pointer, assist and a steal in 17 minutes including an And-1 with two minutes left that put AU up by seven.
Lafayette point guard Nick Linder scored six of the Leopards final eight points as they rallied back to tie the game. He finished with 17 points and four assists while senior forward Dan Trist led all scorers with 25 points.
The Leopards also controlled the boards, outrebounding AU by 10, 33-23, including a 12-2 advantage on the offensive side that resulted in 10 second-chance points. The Eagles countered by turning eight Lafayette turnovers into 16 points.
American will look to keep its momentum rolling in a rematch of the 2014 Patriot League Championship at Boston U. on Wednesday, Jan. 21 at 7 p.m.