Men's Basketball Closes Out Regular Season with Road Trip to Lafayette

Men's Basketball Closes Out Regular Season with Road Trip to Lafayette

Feb. 24, 2006

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THE STORYLINE: It all comes down to this: If American wins today, the Eagles capture the fourth seed in the Patriot League Championship Tournament. If the Eagles do not win, the fourth and fifth seeds are up in the air. Regardless, the Eagles are destined for Lewisburg, Pa., for the first round of the PL Tournament. Now, the Eagles are trying to sweep Lafayette in the regular season for the first time since joining the PL in 2001. Lafayette and American split the season series in 2003, 2004 and 2005, and the Leopards swept the series in 2002.

LAST TIME OUT: The American University men's basketball team hounded the PL's top-scoring Navy Midshipmen into 36 percent shooting and 20 turnovers, rolling to a 65-48 win in the final home game of the 2005-06 season Thursday night. With the win, American cements its match-up against Lafayette in the PL Tournament in two weekends. On the back of hot shooting and stifling defense, American shot out to a 9-2 run early in the second half and kept the pressure on, eventually running to a 58-34 lead with five minutes to go. The cushion was more than enough as the Eagles shot 55 percent from the floor in the second half and held Navy to their second-lowest scoring total of the season. With eight minutes to go in the second half, no one on Navy's roster had more than four points and the Midshipmen had just 29 points. In a game that honored senior Craig Weinstein in the final home game of his career at American, the highlight of the second half came when the guard found himself alone on the wing and let rip a three that hit nothing but net to the crowd's roaring approval. Despite shooting just 36 percent, American scored 14 points off turnovers to take a 28-19 lead into half. The Eagles stayed on top of the Midshipmen throughout, allowing just 21 shots and forcing 10 turnovers. Navy's leading scorer Greg Sprink scored a mere two points and only attempted one shot in the first frame as the visitors were on pace for a season-low in points. Offensively, Andre Ingram had 15 points and Arvydas Eitutavicius added 12 to lead the Eagles. Paulius Joneliunas had nine points and eight rebounds also. The Eagles set a season-high in steals with 14, led by Derrick Mercer's four.

ON THE SIDELINE: Head Coach Jeff Jones is in his sixth season at the helm of the Eagles program. He boasts a 85-87 (.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 98-94 (.510) overall record versus teams from the Patriot League (See chart below).

Army	        11-1
Bucknell	17-21
Colgate	        9-3
Holy Cross	3-10
Lafayette	15-16
Lehigh	        14-10
Navy	        29-33
Total	        98-94 (.510)
LAST MEETING: Owning a 43-14 rebounding advantage and shooting a season-high 56 percent, the American University men's basketball team cruised to a 74-56 win over Lafayette College in Bender Arena. Andre Ingram led four Eagles in double-figures with 14 points in the win as AU improves to 7-13 overall and 3-4 in the Patriot League. While dominating the first-half on the glass with a 26-4 advantage, American ran out to a 37-20 cushion by half and never looked back. The lead grew to as much as 29 in the second-half before a late run by Lafayette taking the game 74-56. AU shot 69 percent for the game inside the arc with 38 points in the paint. Off second-chance opportunities, the Eagles had 19 points and Lafayette had five.

POSSIBILITIES: With two games left in the Patriot League season, American could finish anywhere between fourth and sixth in the PL standings. Only Bucknell (at 12-0) has clinched. The Bison, ranked 24th nationally, will host one of the two "mini-tournaments" the PL holds to determine its champion.

MERCER'S MINUTES: Since playing a career-high 43 minutes in the double-overtime win against Army on January 18, freshman Derrick Mercer has been an ironman. The 5-9 Jersey City, N.J., native has not played less than 32 minutes in the nine games since then, and is now averaging 33.2 minutes per game. Over his last nine games, Mercer is averaging 37.1 minutes per game. He played every second of AU's February 4 game at Lehigh.

OUR FUTURE'S SO BRIGHT, WE GOTTA WEAR SHADES: Fully one-third of American University's roster is made up of freshman, all of whom are gaining valuable experience in this their first season on the Northwest campus. The five frosh Eagles are also solid contributors to the squad. See chart below for the breakdown.

********	PPG	RPG	Assists
Freshmen	20.2	11.0	128
Team	        63.4	34.8	352
Percentages	31.8	31.6	36.4
EAGLES SHOT AT .500: AU needs to win today to garner a .500 PL record. AU has never had a losing record in its four previous years in the league. Last season, at 8-6, was AU's lowest winning percentage since joining the PL in 2001.

DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN: Regardless of the outcome of today's game, American and Lafayette will meet again next Friday, March 3 in Lewisburg, Pa. in the Patriot League Tournament Quarterfinals. Today's game will only determine which of these two teams will be the "home" team on the Sojka Pavilion hardcourt. This is the second consecutive season in which AU has met its final regular season opponent in the first round of the PL Tourney. Last year, American defeated Navy at home in the final regular season game, 84-77, to clinch the third seed, and then defeated Navy in Lewisburg, 85-83 in overtime, in the first round of the PL Tournament.

HIGH SCORES, NO BOARDS: American is hoping today's game follows the statistical patterns both teams have set thus far. Generally, Lafayette gives up a lot of points; AU is 6-1 when scoring 70 or more. Also, Lafayette does not rebound well (the `Pards are ranked seventh in rebounding offense and eighth in rebounding defense in the PL); All but one of AU's wins have come when the Eagles have outrebounded their opponent.