- The Washington Times - Friday, November 30, 2001

Jeff Jones could have collapsed right there on the Bender Arena floor after another improbable 3-pointer by the visitors sent the game into a second overtime on Wednesday night.

The color left his face, and for a moment, the American University basketball coach stared in the direction of the trail official, as if hoping to discover it somehow was a mistake.

This was not right, not fair, not the way it was intended to be, not after Steven Miles hit a couple of big shots and made a couple of big plays and Patrick Doctor overcame a sluggish beginning to finish with 18 points and 14 rebounds.

Stop it right here.

Does resurrecting a program have to be this hard? Is this what happens to a program that has endured 10 consecutive losing seasons? Is this part of it all, two game-tying 3-pointers that barely beat the buzzer? What are the odds of that, two of those in one game?

Pass the heart medicine.

This was worthy stuff, this meeting between American and the College of Charleston. They played two overtimes, 50 minutes in all, and they played with purpose and passion, and so it hurt to be American in the end, to be on the losing end of a 76-70 score.

"That was a great college basketball game," Jones said later, slumped on a chair in the hallway outside his team's locker room.

He has been in a few of those, first as a player at Virginia and then as the school's coach who fell one game shy of leading the Cavaliers to the Final Four in 1995. They forget that now. They only remember the messy departure, the 11-19 season in 1998 and the 72-stitch slasher, Melvin Whitaker, who wound up at Mount St. Whitaker's College in Emmitsburg, Md.

Jones landed on Ward Circle, the college basketball equivalent of purgatory, distant from Dick Vitale's hot air, looking to rebuild a program as well as his reputation after a one-season layover in Rhode Island. He knew there could be nights like this one, nights that play with your head and stomach, nights that torment you into the wee hours. What if he had done this? What if he had done that? What if the ball had bounced one way instead of the other?

It was right there, it was his team's game, and then it was gone, poof.

The Eagles seemingly won it in regulation and then again in the first overtime, only to be mocked each time by a shot from nowhere. Each shot was necessitated by the absence of time on the clock. Each shot was attempted several feet beyond the 3-point line, with bodies and hands in the vicinity and prayers being said in silence from both benches.

Jones could not prompt one more surge from his players after the second game-tying 3-pointer. They were spent physically by then and mustered only one late basket in the second overtime.

"I think I saw some looks of disbelief after the first overtime," Jones said.

He also saw the following from his players: "What do we have to do to beat these guys?"

Jones is four games into his second season at American, dealing with a 2-2 record following a 7-20 get-acquainted session. This one might have put his team en route to a better place, mostly because the College of Charleston is in one of the leading mid-major conference programs in the nation.

"They are where we want to be," Jones said.

The Cougars are made in the image of John Kresse, the coach whose name is attached to the school's on-campus basketball facility. He tried to be helpful to the Eagles.

Kresse pulled Jeff Bolton early in the second half just as Bolton was heating up and the Cougars were up 10 points, possibly on the verge of settling the issue.

Kresse appeared to be thinking too hard, planning too far ahead, ignoring the obvious, in this case the hot hand and a 10-point lead.

The Eagles soon fashioned a 15-0 run, which was the beginning of a scintillating finish, as it turned out, stuffed with what-ifs, might-have-beens and a reminder of the task ahead.

"We're trying to climb the mountain," Jones said.

It can be a cruel process. Sometimes, for no good reason, the game decides to hit you in the solar plexus.


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