- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 5, 2009

Leading Lafayette by double digits Saturday, American needed overtime to escape with a win.

The Eagles wouldn’t repeat that mistake.

Leading Lafayette by 11 points at halftime Wednesday night in the Patriot League tournament quarterfinals, the Eagles didn’t let up, scoring the first 13 points of the half on their way to a 78-56 win at Bender Arena.

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“We knew we had to come out and play better than we did up at Lafayette,” senior guard Derrick Mercer said. “The guys were prepared and were ready to go and played the game we had to play.”

Mercer scored a season-high 20 points, and Garrison Carr (19) and Brian Gilmore (17) complemented him. The Eagles shot 57.9 percent from the field.

The top-seeded Eagles (22-7) never trailed and will host Army in a semifinal Sunday at noon. Fourth-seeded Army defeated Lehigh.

The Eagles are two wins from a return trip to the NCAA tournament. AU’s 11-game win streak is its longest in 27 years.

“Unfortunately, we didn’t play as well as we could,” Mercer said. “We just did enough to get the win.”

Said AU coach Jeff Jones: “At times, we played well and with a lot of intensity. … We played in spurts. We’re not good enough to have lapses. We played good, but it’s going to take great at some point, and that’s what we need to strive for.”

A stretch that Jones described as “pretty good” turned a tight game into a rout.

Lafayette missed its first nine shots of the second half and didn’t score until the 13:09 mark. AU’s lead swelled to 24 points and never got lower than 15.

“That’s what I was looking for,” Jones said. “We want to try and get that for prolonged periods. We go through stretches and things are going really, really well, and then all of a sudden we have a drop-off.”

Jones obviously got his point across at halftime. Although the Leopards shot 43.5 percent in the first half, there were too many breakdowns for Jones’ liking.

“Coach was pretty fired up at halftime, and we knew in the first half we didn’t play as well as we could have,” Gilmore said. “We had some mental lapses - not sprinting back on defense led to points for them. He really drove home that we could play better, and we showed that. The guys responded.”

AU led 11-3 early before Lafayette cut the deficit to 16-15. Over the first half’s last 9:20, though, the Eagles scored on 11 of their 16 possessions.

Mercer broke out of a mini slump by hitting nine of his 13 shots. In the previous three games, he missed 21 of 31 attempts.

“For whatever reason, he wasn’t quite on,” Jones said. “I’m guessing winning player of the year gave his confidence a nice boost, and he played like he was the best player on the floor.”

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