Men's Basketball Looks to Knock Off Top-Seeded Bucknell in Patriot League Tournament Semifinals

Men's Basketball Looks to Knock Off Top-Seeded Bucknell in Patriot League Tournament Semifinals

March 4, 2006

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THE STORYLINE: American finds itself in the same exact situation as it did a year ago: Facing down Bucknell on the Bison's home court in the semifinals of the Patriot League Tournament. AU hopes this year the result will be different, after ending the 2004-05 season with a 53-35 drubbing at the hands of BU. However, history is on the side of Bucknell; the Bison have won four straight in the series, including both regular season matchups this season (58-50 in Washington on Jan. 11 and 74-57 in Lewisburg, Pa., on Feb. 8). American has not taken down BU since a 68-59 victory in Washington on Jan. 28, 2005.

LAST TIME OUT: The American University men's basketball team won in the quarterfinals of the Patriot League Tournament for the fifth consecutive year, this time with a 75-62 triumph over Lafayette Friday at Sojka Pavilion. American nursed just a seven-point lead at the 11:42 mark of the second period, until the Eagles exploded for a 10-0 run keyed by a pair of jumpers by Linas Lekavicius and consecutive three-pointers from freshman Garrison Carr. The Leopards never got closer than 13 the rest of the way. American opened up a seven-point halftime lead, 41-34, thanks to 70.8 percent shooting (17-of-24). The Eagles had a 10-point lead with just seconds remaining in the first half, but Lafayette's Bilal Abdullah hit a long three-pointer at the buzzer to cut the deficit. Andre Ingram led the Eagles in the opening period, canning nine points. However, it was balanced scoring that helped AU stake its halftime lead, as eight Eagles had at least two points. Lafayette was able to stay in the game through halftime because of its hot outside shooting. The Leopards had 12 first-half field goals, seven of which came outside the arc. American moved to 7-0 when scoring between 70 and 79 points. The Eagles finished with 57.4 percent shooting (27-of-47) and outscored the Leopards 22-12 in the paint and 19-8 off of turnovers. Lekavicius led the Eagles with 18 points, hitting six-of-seven shots, while Ingram had 11 points and Paulius Joneliunas had 10 points, hitting all five of his shots.

ON THE SIDELINE: Head Coach Jeff Jones is in his sixth season at the helm of the Eagles program. He boasts a 87-87 (.500) 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 100-94 (.515) 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	17-16
Lehigh	        14-10
Navy	        29-33
Total	        100-94 (.515)
MERCER, INGRAM HONORED BY THE PATRIOT LEAGUE: During the Patriot League conference call on Wednesday, it was revealed that point guard Derrick Mercer was selected by the PL's coaches as the Rookie of the Year, while junior guard Andre Ingram was named to the All-League Second Team. This is the third consecutive year Ingram earned a PL postseason honor, after being named to the league's First Team last season and picked as the Rookie of the Year in 2003-04.

INGRAM'S STRUGGLES VERSUS BUCKNELL: Since junior guard Andre Ingram joined the Eagles just under three full seasons ago, Bucknell has risen to the top of the Patriot League. While Ingram has been one of the top players in the Patriot League during BU's ascension, unfortunately for the Eagles Ingram has not had much luck against the Bison's stifling defense. In seven career games, Ingram has scored just 56 points (8.0 ppg) and hit just 20-of-84 field goal attempts (.238). Ingram's 8.0 ppg versus Bucknell is far below his 13.7 ppg career average.

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 Feb. 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 freshmen, 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	Minutes
Freshmen	20.1	10.9	133	1,963
Team	        63.9	35.0	363	5,450
Percentages	31.5%	31.1%	36.6%	36.0%
DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN: This is the second consecutive season in which the Eagles have met Bucknell on the Bison's home floor in the Patriot League semifinals. The Eagles dropped a 53-35 decision to BU last season (see next page for a recap of that game) after defeating Navy in overtime in the first round. The loss to BU was the first time AU lost in the semifinals since joining the Patriot League in 2001.

EITUTAVICIUS NO LONGER THREATING SINGLE-SEASON FREE THROW PERCENTAGE RECORD: Junior guard Arvydas Eitutavicius had been spot-on from the free throw line this season, even being ranked in the nation's top-10 for much of the year. Prior to the Lafayette game, Eitutavicius had hit 66-of-73 free throw attempts (90.4 percent). The school's single-season free throw percentage record is exactly 90.4 percent, set by Mark Garlitos in the 1978-79 season. Ironically, Garlitos hit 66-of-73 attempts that season. However, it is now unlikely Eitutavicius will break the record, because he went just five-of-10 versus Lafayette in the final regular season game. The 6-2 shooter would have to hit 44 consecutive free throws to get above 90.4 percent.

EAGLES ALL-TIME PATRIOT LEAGUE TOURNAMENT RECORD: American is 7-4 all-time in the Patriot League Tournament. The Eagles made it to the PL Championship Game in each of the first three seasons, but lost each time. American lost the first two times to Holy Cross and the third time to Lehigh on a last-second jumper by Jose Olivero. American is 3-1 all-time in the semifinals of the Patriot League Tournament . See chart below.

Date	Opponent	Result
3/2/02	Lehigh %	82-69, W
3/3/02	Lafayette %	66-58, W
3/8/02	Holy Cross #	54-58, L
3/8/03	Navy %	        72-57, W
3/9/03	Lafayette %	74-55, W
3/14/03	@ Holy Cross &	64-72, L
3/6/04	Army %	        65-48, W
3/7/04	Colgate %	65-55, W
3/14/04	Lehigh	        57-59, L
3/4/05	Navy $	        85-83, W (OT)
3/6/05	@ Bucknell $	35-53, L
3/3/06	Lafayette $	75-62, W
Total		        8-4 (.667)

% Showplace Arena - Upper Marlboro, Md. # Bender Arena - Washington, D.C. & Hart Center - Worcester, Mass. $ Sojka Pavilion - Lewisburg, Pa.

(ALMOST) NO COMEBACKS, EITHER WAY: If you look up at the clock with 5:00 left in today's game, it's almost a lock that the team leading will be the team winning, no matter how close the game is. In 27 AU games this season, only once has the team trailing at the 5:00 minute mark of the second half come back to win the game. In the Eagles' 65-63, double-overtime win over Army earlier this season, AU trailed, 41-40, with 5:00 showing on the clock. Even in that game, Andre Ingram hit game-tying threes at the buzzer at the end of regulation and with just seconds left in the first overtime to send the game to a second overtime, where AU eventually won.

STREAKING: American has won three straight games, over Navy and Lafayette, entering today's Patriot League semifinal. While that's encouraging - momentum is huge - it shouldn't be overlooked that AU has just one winning streak as long as three games. American won its first three home games - versus Mount St. Mary's, Towson and Howard - but has not yet eclipsed a three-game winning streak since. The Eagles have won two straight games three times since then, twice versus Colgate and Army and one versus Navy and Lafayette.

RECAP OF LAST SEASONS'S SEMIFINALS: Senior Matej Cresnik led American University with 12 points but it was not enough as the Bison of Bucknell knocked the Eagles out of the semifinals of the Patriot League Tournament by 18 points, 53-35.The Bison led by seven, 36-29, with 7:22 left in the game when they turned up the defensive pressure on the Eagles. They closed out the game with a 19-6 run with nine of the points coming from the charity stripe. Earlier in the second half Chris McNaughton gave Bucknell a three-point lead (24-21) with 16:37 to play. The Eagles would not get closer the rest of the way and a minute later Chris Niesz converted a three-point play after Patrick Okpwae picked up the foul. After a Cresnik free throw gave AU 22 points Donald Brown put back an offensive rebound and Niesz followed with a pair of free throws to put the Bison up nine points, 31-22. Okpwae broke a four minute American scoring drought with a jumper from the left side to cut the deficit to seven (31-24) but Bucknell's John Griffin knocked down a three to give Bucknell its first double-digit lead of the game at 34-24. Frank Mastropaolo made the lead a dozen points (36-24) with 11:56 to play on a layup. Andre Ingram did not hit his first bucket of the game until the 11:39 mark in the second, bringing the Eagles back to within 10 (36-26). Ingram then cut it to seven when he hit a long three at 7:26 (36-29). However, the Bison then went on a 5-0 run. Cresnik broke up the run with a two-pointer but McNaughton responded with a short jumper to push the lead back to 12 (43-31) with 5:12 to play. Bucknell pushed its lead to 14 points but Cresnik hit a three to cut the deficit to 11 points (45-34) with 3:23 remaining. However, that was as close as the Eagles would get as they managed just one free throw the rest of the way.