Jan. 27, 2006
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THE STORYLINE: American enters its game versus Lafayette Saturday looking to halt a potential tailspin, after losing consecutive games to Holy Cross and Navy. The Leopards won their last game, 82-61 over Army, after losing three straight games before that. This is American's final home game before a two-game road swing to Lehigh and Bucknell, perhaps the toughest trip in the league this season. In the four seasons AU has been in the PL, the Eagles and the Leopards have split 10 games. Lafayette won the last matchup, 93-89 in overtime on Feb. 19, 2005, after AU had captured the first meeting, 76-74, in Washington on Jan. 15, 2005. In the Eagles first two seasons in the PL, American eliminated Lafayette from the PL Tournament.
LAST TIME OUT: The American University men's basketball team held a six-point halftime lead over Navy Wednesday night, but the Midshipmen put together a 46-point second half to surpass the Eagles 77-68 at Alumni Hall. A solid effort in the paint and excellent ballhandling provided American with a 37-31 lead at halftime. American, led by 12 first-period points from Paulius Joneliunas, outscored the Midshipmen in the paint, 20-10. Also, the Eagles had just seven turnovers in the opening stanza, compared to Navy's 13. The 37 points in the first period tied for the second most in the first half this season, and was the second-largest first half lead of the year. However, Navy came out of the lockerroom and assembled a 13-7 run to tie the game at 44 a piece at the 14:38 mark. Navy then used an efficient offense, shooting 48 percent in the second stanza and turning the ball over just once in the latter period, to outscore the Eagles the rest of the way. Greg Sprink led the way for the Mids, catching fire in the second period and scoring 19 points to finish with 27 for the game. He hit seven-of-10 three-point attempts. American was led by Derrick Mercer, who finished with a career-high 17 points, adding five assists with just one turnover. Joneliunas finished with 15 points, while Arvydas Eitutavicius had 11 points. Linas Lekavicius had seven points, eight rebounds and five assists.
ON THE SIDELINE: Head Coach Jeff Jones is in his sixth season at the helm of the Eagles program. He boasts a 81-84 (.491) overall record at AU, but his record over the past four seasons was 68-51 (.571). Jones is the first coach at AU since Eagles Hall-of-Famer David Carrasco to put together four consecutive winning seasons. Carrasco went 23-5, 22-7, 21-7 and 15-7 from 1957 to 1961. The four straight winning seasons are the most for AU since the 1974-75 team concluded five straight winning tilts.
RECORD VS. THE PATRIOT LEAGUE: American University possesses a 94-91 (.508) overall record versus teams from the Patriot League (See chart below).
Army 10-1 Bucknell 17-20 Colgate 8-3 Holy Cross 3-9 Lafayette 14-16 Lehigh 14-9 Navy 28-33 Total 94-91 (.508)NICHOLS NEARING MILESTONES: Freshman Jordan Nichols is just 10 points away from 100 in his career, after averaging 4.7 ppg thus far. Perhaps more impressive, however, is that he is just two rebounds away from 100 career rebounds. Even more astounding, nearly half of Nichols' rebounds are of the offensive variety; he has 51 defensive rebounds and 47 offensive boards. Furthermore, Nichols is just two blocks from tying for 10th place all-time at AU in single season blocks. He has 28 thus far, including a six-block game two games ago. Meanwhile, fellow freshman Garrison Carr is just five points away from 100 in his career.
EXPECT A TIGHT ONE: Since AU joined the Patriot League in 2001, the Lafayette/American series has been one of the most exciting in the PL. The teams have split 10 games, and eight of those games have been decided by single-digits, including one overtime game last season. Four games have been decided by three points or fewer. See chart at right.
EITUTAVICIUS RANKED IN TOP-10 NATIONALLY IN FREE THROWS: Junior guard Arvydas Eitutavicius entered this week ranked eighth nationally in free throw percentage. As of Jan. 23, Eitutavicius had hit 50-of-55 free throw attempts (90.9 percent). Since then, he has hit three-of-three attempts (all against Navy) to improve to 53-of-58, or 91.4 percent.
FREE THROWS IN DECLINE: Unfortunately for American, the team is not following the trend set by Arvydas Eitutavicius. Over the course of the last three games, AU's free throw shooting has suffered; American is 28-of-54 (51.9 percent). That has dropped the team free throw percentage from a solid 71 percent prior to the Army game to just 67.8 percent currently.
JONES SETTLES ON A LINEUP: Early this season, it seemed as if head coach Jeff Jones would change the starting lineup nearly every game. In fact, in the team's first 14 games, Jones used seven different starting lineups. However, in the last six games, Jones has employed the same lineup (Derrick Mercer, Linas Lekavicius, Andre Ingram, Brayden Billbe and Paulius Joneliunas). Unfortunately, that lineup has produced just a 2-4 record.
TURNOVERS GOING DOWNWARD: Over the course of the first first 14 games, American struggled with its ballhandling, averaging 16.6 turnovers per game. However, over the last five games - not counting an 18 turnover game at Holy Cross - the Eagles seem to have gotten a handle on taking care of the ball. Minus the HC game, American averaged just 13 turnovers per game during that stretch. The Eagles' are now averaging 15.9 turnovers per game.
BIG DAYS FOR LITTLE AND LARGE: Although freshman point guard Derrick Mercer and junior center Paulius Joneliunas don't have much in common in terms of appearance - Mercer is the smallest member of the Eagles, at 5-9, while Joneliunas is the largest, at 6-11 - they did share career nights at Navy. Mercer tallied a career-highs in points (17) and three-pointers (three), while Joneliunas nabbed career numbers in points (15), field goals (six) and minutes (25). Mercer has started every game this season for AU - one of just two players to do so - and Joneliunas has started each of the last nine games.