American and Navy squared off yesterday afternoon at Bender Arena in both teams' regular season finale. Thank to American's 84-77 triumph, which clinched the No. 3 seed, the teams will meet again Friday with a lot more at stake -- -- a chance to advance in the Patriot League tournament and take a step toward securing the conference's automatic berth in the NCAA tournament.
Both squads will enter their first-round matchup in Lewisburg, Pa., with reasons to be moderately optimistic. After a four-game slide, the Eagles (15-11, 8-6) have won two in a row. The Midshipmen (9-18, 5-9), the No. 6 seed, finished with two victories in their last three contests.
"The players have responded very well," American Coach Jeff Jones said. "We're heading into the tournament on an upward swing, and we'll see what happens on Friday."
The Eagles fell behind by 10 in the first half but stormed back to lead at halftime, 47-45. They scored the first five points of the second half and did not trail the rest of the way. Seniors Raimondas Petrauskas and Jason Thomas, making their final home appearances, each scored 17 points.
David Hooper led Navy with 20 points. Taj Mathews added 15. Even with the early advantage, Navy Coach Billy Lange was far from comfortable.
"I felt that the pace of the game was favoring American right from the start," Lange said. "I still think we're playing better than we did before."
Both teams were on target in the first half, each shooting about 53 percent. Hooper and Mathews paced Navy with 16 and 11 points, respectively. Thomas led the Eagles with nine despite being limited to eight minutes by foul trouble.
With an 11-0 run, Navy seized a 26-17 advantage. A layup by Petrauskas broke a five-minute scoring drought. The Eagles trailed by 10 with about nine minutes left in the half before going on a 7-0 run.
"We didn't match their intensity until late in the first half," Jones said.
With about 13 minutes left in the game, it was Navy's turn to go through a long scoring drought. This one lasted nearly seven minutes. Before it was over, Navy faced its largest deficit, 68-56.
"That's when we were finally able to get a handle on the game," Jones said.
The Midshipmen sliced the margin to five on several occasions late in the game, but could not creep closer. Both teams cooled off from the field in the second half, though the Eagles were able to convert 17 of 18 free throws.
HOFSTRA 75, GEORGE MASON 52: In Hempstead, N.Y., Loren Stokes had 19 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals, leading the Pride to its sixth straight victory.
Adrian Uter came off the bench and scored all 14 of his points in the second half on 7-for-8 shooting while grabbing 11 rebounds for Hofstra (20-7, 12-6 CAA).
Lamar Butler topped the Patriots (16-12, 10-8), who trailed by nine at halftime, with 14 points. Gabe Norwood added 14 for George Mason, which has lost three of its last four games.
Wendell Gibson had four points as Hofstra jumped off to a 9-2 lead at 16 minutes 45 seconds of the first half. Jordan Carter's layup concluded a 9-0 run that got George Mason to within 21-20 at 6:28.
Jibran Washington had five points as Hofstra went 10-2 over the final 3:28 of the first half. Uter had 10 points as the Pride outscored the Patriots 30-14 to gain its largest advantage, 66-41, at 7:06.
HAMPTON 59, HOWARD 49: Devin Green collected 19 points and 12 rebounds, and Rashad West added 10 points to lead the host Pirates (14-11, 12-4 MEAC) to their fifth straight victory.
Darryl Hudson had 15 points and 12 rebounds for the Bison (5-20, 2-14). Sidney Nickleson added 10 points and six rebounds.