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American clinches Patriot crown
With 28 seconds left and his team trailing by one, American senior guard Garrison Carr stood at the free throw line in Wednesday night’s game against Navy.
A 77 percent foul shooter on the season, Carr ignored the roar of the Bender Arena crowd and calmly knocked down both ends of the one-and-one, helping American clinch the Patriot League regular-season title with a 64-59 victory against visiting Navy.
“I was extremely nervous,” said Carr, who led all scorers with 20 points. “I don’t remember feeling like that in any game in my life. But we pulled it out, and that’s all that matters.”
Carr, the league’s leading 3-point shooter, connected on four shots from beyond the arc and was perfect from the free throw line.
With the victory, the Eagles clinched their second consecutive regular-season conference title and secured homecourt advantage for the conference tournament, which begins Wednesday.
The game featured the Patriot League’s top three scorers as well as its three best 3-point shooters. And the players didn’t disappoint, knocking down a combined 15 shots from long range. The lead changed hands nine times and featured six double-digit scorers.
The Eagles relied on steady 3-point shooting from Carr, Derrick Mercer and Nick Hendra - who combined to nail six 3s in the first half - to build an early 12-point lead. But the Eagles grew overzealous from beyond the arc, clanking four 3s in the last 7:52 and allowing Navy crawl back into the game. Led by guard Kino Kaleo’s 19 points and two steals, the Midshipmen rallied to whittle the Eagles’ lead to three going into halftime.
“They sat down and made us work for everything that we got,” American coach Jeff Jones said. “Navy just guarded us really well.”
Kaleo, who came into the contest averaging a league-best 17.6 points a game, and Adam Teague (19 points) helped the Midshipmen keep it close in the second half. After Mercer missed two crucial free throws with a little over three minutes remaining, it appeared Navy might escape with a victory. But a pair of clutch buckets by Hendra pulled the Eagles within one when Carr strode to the line.
After giving AU the lead, Carr nailed two more free throws, and senior Frank Borden added another pair to finish off Navy.
“Once we got over that little hump I was confident in the team’s ability to pull it out,” Carr said. “We were able to do that.”
With the win, American captured a season sweep of Navy and their 22nd victory in 26 tries against the Midshipmen. The sweep marks only the second time in 22 years that one side has won both meetings between the two teams.
AU coach Jeff Jones’ squad streaks into next week’s tournament having won nine straight and 15 of its last 16. Buoyed by senior class that has driven the program to new heights - the seven seniors have led AU to 68 wins and the school’s first tournament appearance in 2008 - American will look to capture its second straight Patriot League title.
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By Mangosuthu Buthelezi
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