- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 9, 2002

From the moment the doors opened at 3:30 p.m. yesterday for the Patriot League championship game, Bender Arena was a bandbox rocking with hordes of students and alumni screaming, band blaring and lights shining brighter than they ever had making for a scene never before created on the American University campus.
The standing-room only crowd of 4,521 shook Bender the most when the Eagles' Andres Rodriguez drained a 3-pointer with 1:37 to go, giving AU a one-point lead. But Holy Cross didn't flinch, and the Eagles' dream season slipped away as the tiny lead turned into a 58-54 Holy Cross victory, sending the Crusaders into their second straight NCAA tournament.
Down 52-51, No.1 seed AU had possession with 20.4 seconds to play after calling a timeout. Guard Steven Miles took the inbound pass in the right corner and promptly launched a 3-pointer, but his shot bounced off the top of the backboard. Holy Cross' Brian Wilson then hit two free throws and Glenn Stokes missed another 3-pointer on the Eagles' next possession.
"We gave them our hardest punch today, and we still didn't get away with a win," Stokes said. "I think everybody felt like they put their all into it, and … we didn't get the big [win] out of it."
Holy Cross, led by Tim Szatko's 16 points and eight rebounds, pulled through because it never wilted under the pressure of the crowd or the game situation. The Crusaders (18-14) committed just four turnovers, and on the two occasions that AU seemed ready to take a commanding lead, the Crusaders instead keep the game close.
"Poise and confidence that was important," Holy Cross coach Ralph Willard said. "The kids focused and stayed positive. They did a tremendous job of valuing the basketball."
Although Patriot Player of the Year Patrick Doctor scored 18 points on 7-for-10 shooting from the field, Holy Cross made the power forward work for every basket. In the game's last 14:20, Doctor scored 11 points, but the Eagles struggled when he was out or when didn't touch the ball.
"It hurts, but you have to move on," Doctor said. "I didn't expect to have to come and talk about this like this."
The last time the teams met at Bender, the Crusaders blew out AU (18-12) by 24 points, one of their two victories against the Eagles during the regular season. Yesterday's game was close the whole way, though AU led 40-34 after Doctor's basket plus a free throw with 13:39 left and appeared ready to take control. However, Holy Cross came back with nine straight points to lead 43-40.
Holy Cross had a 50-48 lead with under two minutes to play when Rodriguez worked an inside-out play with Doctor to perfection, drilling a 3-pointer to give American the lead. It quickly vanished as poor decisions on offense in the last minute hurt the Eagles.
"I have no idea why I shot the ball in that situation," Miles said of his ill-advised attempt with 18 seconds left. "I was just excited. I tried to do everything."
Miles, who had shot 6-for-25 in the Eagles' first two tournament games, actually had a very solid game, scoring 14 points with four 3-pointers.
It was the second time in the 12-year history of the Patriot League tournament that the No.2 seed upset No.1 on its home court. The crushing defeat left AU's players in despair, but they handled the defeat with class by staying on the court to watch the Crusaders accept their championship trophy. Still, it was a sour end to a sweet season for the long-downtrodden men's basketball program.
"We know what it takes to get here," said Stokes. "We expect [to get back to the championship game next season]."
Notes Although AU had its NCAA tournament dreams crushed, the Eagles are hoping for a bid to the NIT. Athletic director Tom George has had several conversations with Jack Powers of the NIT, including one yesterday, and Powers has said the Eagles are under consideration.
George said that along with George Mason, another local team that could be in line for a bid he is optimistic that AU will receive its first invitation to a postseason tournament since the 1981-82 season. … Doctor, Miles, Wilson, Szatko and Bucknell's Boakai Lalugba were named to the all-tournament team. … The sellout was just the fourth since Bender opened in 1988.


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