- The Washington Times - Friday, March 13, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) - It only makes sense that the team representing the nation’s capital in the NCAA tournament can play some pretty mean defense.

American is headed to the big show for the second year in a row, after suffocating Holy Cross in a 73-57 victory Friday in the championship game of the Patriot League tournament.

Tournament MVP Garrison Carr scored 24 points, launching momentum-swinging 3-pointers whenever his team needed them, but there was little doubt the Eagles (24-7) won because they didn’t give conference rookie of the year R.J. Evans and the rest of the Crusaders (18-14) room to breathe.

In front of a standing-only Bender Arena crowd of 3,123 _ including Mayor Adrian Fenty, who beamed with pride in his embroidered, blue AU jacket _ American ensured that the D.C. metro area wouldn’t be shut out of the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1978.

With Georgetown, George Washington and George Mason not in the mix and Maryland on the bubble, coach Jeff Jones’ Eagles flew the local banner by riding a roster of seven seniors to a title in a season in which anything else would have been a huge disappointment.

Fans stormed the court at the final buzzer, AU’s cheerleaders unveiled a “We’re Dancing” banner, and special editions of The Eagle newspaper blared “Back-to-Back!” on the front page.

American earned its first NCAA Division I berth last year and lost to Tennessee as a No. 15 seed. Only one school _ Bucknell in 2005 and 2006 _ has won a game while representing the Patriot League in the NCAA tournament.

Carr finished 9-for-12 from the field, including 6-for-8 from 3-point range, breaking the school record for the 3-pointers in the process. Brian Gilmore added 18 for the Eagles, who shot 71 percent in the second half.

Holy Cross shot 32 percent for the game, including a 4-for-22 in the first half, and found itself in a 20-point hole early in the second half. Evans, often shadowed by Carr, finished with 16 points on 7-for-16 shooting. Pat Doherty added 13 points for the Crusaders, who were seeking a record sixth Patriot League title.

The final was a fitting one, pitting the conference’s top two seeds, both ranking among the national leaders in scoring defense. Top-seeded American ran its winning streak to 13 games _ the second-longest in the country _ and avenged its only loss of 2009, a 71-62 defeat at Holy Cross on Jan. 24.

Points, therefore, were hard to come by, especially in the first half. Holy Cross went more than 7 1/2 minutes without a field goal in the first half, a stretch that included three offensive fouls by three different players and a traveling call on Evans.

The drought allowed the Eagles to go on a 9-0 run that gave them the lead for good. Carr followed a jumper with a falling-down, high-arcing 3-pointer from the top of the key, and Gilmore added a dunk that made the score 17-9.

AU led 28-18 at the half, and Carr helped pushed the lead to 45-25 with a back-to-back 3-pointers in an 8-0 run early in the second half. Holy Cross then tried to make a game of it, going on a 9-1 run to cut the lead to 12.

The Eagles, though, always seemed to have an answer, whether it was a three-point play from Gilmore or another 3-pointer from Carr. Holy Cross never closed within single digits in the second half.

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