- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 17, 2002

American University's first Patriot League loss offered a lesson in fundamentals.

Lafayette was sound in all aspects of the game, particularly defensively, and scrapped out a 57-52 victory before 1,489 at Bender Arena. American looked like the more talented team but couldn't solve Lafayette's zone defense, going scoreless during a 5:20 span late in the game.

American was trying for its first five-game winning streak in 11 seasons, but Lafayette, which beat defending Patriot champ and preseason favorite Holy Cross on Jan.12, had other plans.

Lafayette held American to just 32.1 percent shooting in the second half compared to 50 percent in the first half and confounded the Eagles' offense. The hosts managed just 10 points in the first 12 minutes of the second half en route to a 23-point total.

"They test you out they challenge your defensive principles, and sooner or later, if you're not solid, they find a weakness," said American coach Jeff Jones. "They hustled, they scrapped."

In the second half, American (8-8, 2-1 Patriot) had all sorts of problems with Lafayette's 1-2-2 zone, and had just one field goal in the first five minutes. Lafayette, which trailed by as many as 10 in the first half, twice closed within a point before taking its first lead at 34-33 with 11:58 to go.

While American continued to struggle offensively, the Leopards (8-7, 2-1) pushed their lead to as many as five with 7:09 left. Patrick Doctor's dunk at the 5:42 mark tied it at 44-44.

But Ben Saxton's 3-pointer and a jumper by Brian Burke, who had 17 points, got the lead back to five, and though Lafayette shot poorly from the line down the stretch, AU got no closer.

The Eagles won their first two league games by a combined 35 points and were seeking to go 3-0 in league play for the first time since 1980-81, when they were in the East Coast Conference under coach Gary Williams.

"They kept hanging around, and they were right there [to take the lead]," Jones said. "Our guys had a chance to see the toughness it's going to take in the Patriot League."

Playing in its first season in the Patriot League, American jumped out to leads of 8-0 and 13-4 while hounding the Leopards into poor shooting from the field. The Eagles' man-to-man defense forced tough shot attempts, mostly from the perimeter, and Lafayette struggled from 3-point range early. However, Lafayette executed better in the second half, particularly on its pick-and-rolls. The Leopards shot 35.3 percent for the game.

American held its largest lead of the first half at 26-16, but behind two field goals and an assist on a third by Burke, the Leopards clawed back with a 9-3 run to close the half to trail by four at the break.

"That's one of the things we talked about that we need to contain them," said Lafayette coach Fran O'Hanlon. "We did a good job of not letting them get inside, whatever defense we were playing."

Last night's game provided a good measuring stick for American, which was facing one of the Patriot's upper-tier this morning eams for the first time. Saturday's home game against Bucknell should further provide the Eagles with an accurate gauge as to where they stand and their chances of finishing with a .500 record.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide