By Christian Swezey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 25, 2007
American men's basketball coach Jeff Jones made three changes to the starting lineup before a 55-46 victory over Navy before 1,244 last night at Bender Arena. Yet there was no question which two players would remain starters.
Senior guard Andre Ingram finished with 18 points and nine rebounds -- both team highs -- and sophomore guard Derrick Mercer played 39 minutes and had eight points and five assists for the Eagles (10-10, 2-4 Patriot League).
American had lost two games in a row, including a 69-64 overtime loss to Holy Cross at home last Saturday. Navy (11-10, 1-5) also entered on a two-game losing streak.
Seniors Arvydas Eitutavicius and Sekou Lewis and sophomore Jordan Nichols (DeMatha) each started for the first time this season for American. Jones made the changes in part because Navy's tallest players tended to play on the perimeter, and the new starters were more capable to extending the defense.
Yet Jones added that he hoped not starting for the first time in eight games would motivate senior center Brayden Billbe. Billbe is 6 feet 10 and used his height advantage to finish with 11 points and six rebounds.
"By the time he came into the game, they were worn down and we were getting what we wanted down low," Ingram said.
Said Jones, "Without the plays he made, we would not have won the game."
The Midshipmen trailed 38-35 following a layup by junior Greg Sprink with 9 minutes 9 seconds to play. But from that point on, Navy made just 2 of 12 shots (17 percent) and had three turnovers.
Sprink finished with 16 points and nine rebounds. He made 5 of 8 shots; the rest of the team made 9 of 38 (24 percent).
"We're not worried about the shooting," Sprink said. "We make them in practice. They'll start falling."
The game figured to be a matchup of Ingram and Sprink, two of the top players in the league, and they did not disappoint. Sprink had scored 20 points in a loss to American in the Patriot League tournament in 2004-05. Last season, he scored 27 points in Navy's first victory over the Eagles since 1991.
At times last night, Ingram guarded Sprink.
"He shoots the ball very well, so there's no real method," Ingram said. "I just try to be aggressive."
Both teams were aggressive in the first half -- mostly on defense. The Midshipmen had 31 possessions in the half; they scored 16 points, made 5 of 21 shots (23.8 percent) and had nine turnovers.
American's 31 first-half possessions yielded 22 points, 6-of-27 shooting (22 percent) and five turnovers.
Before the game, Jones said he told the team he didn't care if they played well, just if they won. He kept his word.
"That [game] would be the perfect definition of winning ugly," he said.