Men's Basketball Team Hosts Holy Cross in "Phil Bender" Game

Men's Basketball Team Hosts Holy Cross in

Feb. 17, 2006

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THE STORYLINE: In a crucial matchup for both teams, American hosts Holy Cross for a 2 p.m. start Saturday. A win for the Eagles would keep them at least one game ahead of Lafayette in the race for fourth place in the PL standings with two league games remaining. Meanwhile, a win for the Crusaders would keep them within striking distance (two games) of second-place Lehigh, a key position because it comes with the right to host part of the PL Tournament. Unfortunately for AU, the Eagles have lost three straight versus Holy Cross and five of the last eight meetings. American and Holy Cross have met twice in the Patriot League championship game, with the Crusaders denying AU its first-ever trip to the NCAA Division I Tournament both times.

LAST TIME OUT: Led by a career-high 19 points from freshman Derrick Mercer, the American University men's basketball team routed Army 68-55 Wednesday at Christl Arena. American held an eight-point halftime lead (35-28), but held the host Black Knights to just two field goals in the first eight minutes of the second period. Meanwhile, AU tallied 15 points during that stretch and the rout was on. AU led by 18 points at the 12-minute mark of the second half, and Army would get no closer than the final 13-point margin. American opened its eight-point halftime lead thanks in part to stellar shooting and an abundance of Army turnovers. The Eagles fired at a 50 percent clip in the opening stanza, hitting 13-of-26 attempts, while holding the Black Knights to just 34.8 percent shooting. Meanwhile, American forced Army into nine first-half turnovers. Mercer, coming off his first career Patriot League Rookie of the Week award, led the American attack in the first period, scoring 10 points on four-of-five shooting. Mercer, who has scored in double-digits in three straight games, the longest streak of his short career, led three Eagles in double-figures. He hit six-of-seven shots, including four-of-four from behind the arc. Brayden Billbe had 12 points and Paulius Joneliunas had 11 points. With the win, American improves to 9-15 overall and 5-6 in the Patriot League, moving into sole possession of fourth place in the PL standings. Army fell to 5-19, 1-11 in the PL.

ON THE SIDELINE: Head Coach Jeff Jones is in his sixth season at the helm of the Eagles program. He boasts a 84-86 (.494) 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 97-93 (.511) overall record versus teams from the Patriot League (See chart below).

Army	        11-1
Bucknell	17-21
Colgate	        9-3
Holy Cross	3-9
Lafayette	15-16
Lehigh	        14-10
Navy	        28-33
Total	        97-93 (.511)
LAST MEETING: The American University men's basketball team got within four points with just over three minutes remaining, but could get no closer in a 74-63 loss to Holy Cross at the Hart Center. American's Andre Ingram hit his second three-pointer of the game with 3:12 remaining in the game, off an offensive rebound by sophomore Travis Lay, to make the score 63-59. The trey gave Ingram 18 points, his highest output since he scored 21 against Howard on December 12. However, American could only get one field goal for the remainder of the game while the Crusaders hit their free throws down the stretch to hold off the Eagles.

POSSIBILITIES: With three games left in the Patriot League season, American could finish anywhere between third and seventh in the PL standings. Only Bucknell (at 11-0) has clinched. The Bison, ranked 24th nationally, will host one of the two "mini-tournaments" the PL holds to determine its champion.

MERCER'S HOT STREAK: Twenty-four games into the season, Derrick Mercer has become American's go-to player. The 5-9 New Jersey native has reached double-digits in points in his last three games - the longest streak of his short career - and is shooting 71.4 percent (15-21) over that stretch. He has also hit eight-of-nine three point field goal attempts (88.9 percent), while playing 34, 37 and 36 minutes, respectively. Against Army on Wednesday, Mercer was efficient, making all but one of his seven field goal attempts and hitting four three-pointers to finish with a career-high 19 points. Mercer is now just seven points away from 200 career points.

ABSOLUTES: There are few guarantees in sports, but the men's basketball team has two: If the Eagles score 59 or fewer points - something they've done nine times this season - they lose. In fact, the closest AU has come to winning when scoring 59 or fewer is a seven-point loss at Lehigh (58-65) earlier this month. Conversely, when AU scores between 70 and 79 points, it is undefeated (5-0), with a 74-70 decision over Towson on Dec. 4, 2005, the tightest race when scoring 70-79. American is 6-1 when scoring 70 or more, with its only loss coming to top-25-ranked Washington in the season opener, 99-82. A big part of the scoring has to do with how well the Eagles are shooting the ball; in games where AU scores between 70-79 points, AU has hit 124-of-271 (.458), while in games where AU has scored 59 or fewer points, the Eagles have hit just 179-of-490 attempts (.365).

THAT'LL HURT: American is ranked last in the Patriot League in three-point field goal defense, allowing its opponents to hit 39.9 percent (172-431) of their attempts. Meanwhile, AU is tied for last in the PL in three-point field goal percentage (.328 or 138-421). That means the Eagles have given up 34 more points when trading treys. Only last place Army has hit fewer three-pointers (134).

INGRAM OUT FOR FIRST TIME: For the first time in his two-plus year career, junior guard Andre Ingram has fallen out of the top-10 in the Patriot League in scoring. The 6-3 Richmond, Va., native is now ranked 12th, scoring at an 11.6 ppg clip.

EITUTAVICIUS SLIPS IN FREE THROW RANKINGS: Junior guard Arvydas Eitutavicius entered last week ranked sixth in the nation in free throw percentage. However, Eitutavicius slipped a bit this past week and is now 15th in the nation, hitting 60-of-67 attempts (89.6 percent). Eitutavicius went five-for-seven last week (71.4 percent) after hitting his previous seven attempts.