Easton, Pa. – Second-year head coach Mike Brennan led the American University men's basketball team back to the Patriot League title game for the second-straight season, and despite an inspired second-half comeback, the host Lafayette Leopards were able to edge American, 65-63.
The sixth-seeded Eagles trailed by as many as 13 points and were down 12 with 11 minutes to play, but fought back to battle No.4-seed Lafayette to the final buzzer.
All five American starters scored in double-digits as the quintet played all but 58 seconds of the game. The Eagles were down by just one with 38 seconds to go, but could get no closer as Lafayette held off several AU runs throughout the game.
"It was a great effort by our guys. It's what they did all year, led by John Schoof and Pee Wee Gardner. They determine what kind of team we are, and you saw what kind of team we were tonight. We just fell short," said Brennan.
Gardner scored all of his 13 points in the second half, while Schoof goes down in American record books as playing and starting more games than anyone to ever wear an AU jersey.
Facing a double-digit deficit midway through the second half, AU went on a 9-0 run bookended by layups from Marko Vasic and Schoof to make it a 3-point game with 8:07 left.
The Eagles eventually took the lead after Schoof found Vasic for an And-1 that gave AU a two-point lead with 5:07 to play. The Leopards answered immediately however, netting back-to-back 3-pointers for a lead it would not give up.
Lafayette becomes the lowest seed to win the league tournament title — and its automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament — in its 25-year history.
AU was able to close within one at 61-60 on a 3-pointer by Gardner. Patriot Tournament MVP Nick Lindner hit a driving shot with 38 seconds left. After a missed American's triple, Lindner went on to hit two free throws to seal it.
Linder finished with a game-high 25 points, as he and Hinrichs (7-of-8 FG) scored 41 of Lafayette's 65 points.
Vasic led AU with 15 points and just missed a double-double with nine rebounds in a career-high 40 minutes played. Gardner added 13 points and seven assists while Jesse Reed chipped in 11 points.
Gardner and Reed were named to the All-Tournament Team.
With his seven first half points, Reed also became the 31st member of 1,000-point club at American University.
Lafayette opened its biggest lead at 40-27 early in the second half on consecutive 3-pointers, but American responded with seven in a row to pull within six on Pee Wee Gardner's basket with 15:47 remaining.
Lafayette then led 48-36 after three consecutive pull-up jumpers by Seth Hinrichs, but again American scored nine straight points to pull to 50-47 with less than 9 minutes left.
American was able to overcome a slow first-half start that produced nine field goals, six from beyond the arc, and 10 turnovers in the first 20 minutes.