WASHINGTON – It was the final home game for four AU seniors and despite going up against the top team in the Patriot League, the American University men's basketball team did not go quietly. In a back-and-forth thriller that featured 26 lead changes and 12 ties, Bucknell went ahead late and held on for a 71-69 win. Senior Pee Wee Gardner's potential game-winning 3-pointer went halfway around the rim but spun out as time expired.
Junior forward Marko Vasic put forth a career-best performance for the second-straight game, making just his third ever start. The Belgrade, Serbia native set personal bests with 21 points, three 3-pointers and nine rebounds, while adding six assists.
Vasic paced four Eagles in double-digit scoring as AU Shot 47 percent from the field and only turned the ball over four times.
Bucknell countered by shooting 55 percent from the field while making the most of their size advantage, turning a 30-26 edge on the boards into 12 second chance points.
"We were able to take away some of their 3-pointers and offensive rebound chances and we played well enough to be in at the end, but we were just a couple plays short," said head coach Mike Brennan.
Gardner finished his final game on Stafford "Pop" Cassell Court with 12 points, five rebounds four assists and two steals. Classmate John Schoof added to his historic points and 3-point totals at AU, adding 13 points and a 3-pointer.
The Bender Arena thriller went down to the final buzzer although Bucknell looked to pull away in the final minutes.
After a Pee Wee layup with 4:41 made it 59-57 Bucknell, the Bison went on a 7-2 run to take the largest lead of the game for either side with only 2:07 to play.
American answered on the very next possession as Vasic hit a 3-pointers. After a defensive stop, Vasic found Schoof for a layup, making it a two-point game with 1:10 to play.
Two Bucknell free throws pushed the lead back to four, but again Vasic had the answer, taking the feed from Gardner for the layup.
After an American foul with only 21 seconds left, sophomore Jalen Rhea came through with a huge 3-pointer, bringing the Eagles within one point of Bucknell with just 12 seconds left. AU had not been that close to the Bison since holding a one-point lead five and half minutes earlier.
American could get no closer however as Gardner's 3-point attempt teased, but did not find the bottom of the net.
Bucknell leading scorer Chris Haas was held to just two points and only two field goal attempts after battling foul trouble all game long.
It was the rookies that stepped up for the Bison as Zach Thomas, Nana Foulland and J.C. Show all scored in double-digit points, led by Show's 20.
Despite the loss, the Eagles will have a bye in the Patriot League Tournament, traveling to No. 3 Lehigh on Thursday as the No. 6 seed in the playoffs.