By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 7, 2007
Like so many of American University's Patriot League efforts this season, Derrick Mercer's late shot was just a little bit short.
With a golden opportunity to upset Bucknell and end a string of excruciatingly close losses, Mercer missed a driving layup with seven seconds left that allowed the Bison to maintain their rickety lead and eventually escape with a 69-66 victory over the Eagles before 1,660 at Bender Arena last night.
"It felt really good," Mercer said of his attempt from the right side that would have given the Eagles a one-point lead. "I actually thought it was in, and when it rolled out, my heart just dropped."
John Griffin (team-high 15 points) added two free throws with 3.6 seconds remaining and Andre Ingram's long three-point attempt fell well short as Bucknell (15-8, 9-1) won its seventh straight and 10th of 11 to prepare for Friday's Patriot showdown against first-place Holy Cross.
Ingram scored 16 of his 23 points in the first half for the Eagles (11-13, 3-7), who have dropped six games to the top three teams -- Bucknell, Holy Cross and Lehigh -- by an average of five points. On Saturday, Lehigh made a pair of free throws with 4.5 seconds to go to beat AU by two.
"It's about making a key play here or there, eliminating a mistake at a crucial time here or there," said AU Coach Jeff Jones, whose team has lost three straight and five of seven to fall into sixth place. "Clearly, we need to learn from these things. The most important thing right now is making sure these guys don't get down. We are what our record says we are, but at the same time, we're not that far off."
The Bison, playing without injured star Donald Brown, shot 61 percent from the field, made 8 of 11 three-pointers and 15 of 18 free throws, including all 13 second-half attempts. AU shot 68 percent in the first half, but 41 percent afterward. There were 19 lead changes and 11 ties, and neither team led by more than two in the final nine minutes until Griffin's late free throws.
Griffin had put Bucknell ahead for good, 67-66, on a pair of free throws with 31 seconds remaining. Following a timeout, AU had trouble finding a quality shot until the 5-foot-9 Mercer beat his man and went to the basket.
"I saw the time running down and we actually didn't get a good look," he said. "I just decided to get it to the basket and try to finish the layup. . . . We've been in a lot of close games, and unfortunately we haven't finished them out. Tonight would've been a big win."