On a Banner Evening, AU Cruises to Victory

By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 18, 2008

American University Coach Jeff Jones sat on empty bleachers at Bender Arena on Sunday morning and insisted he was completely unconcerned with the royal blue cloth dangling from the rafters overhead, much less the banner hanging underneath it.

Jones believed his team had been "a little soft" in its season opener at No. 12 Oklahoma two days earlier. That, he said, was his major concern. His players needed to be more assertive on both ends of the court or their matchup against Saint Francis (Pa.) could end in much the same fashion as Friday night's contest -- with a loss.

Last night, in front of a wildly enthusiastic home crowd, the university's president, athletic director and two former players pulled a rope that unveiled a banner honoring American's 2008 NCAA tournament appearance -- the first in program history. The Eagles then defeated Saint Francis (0-2), 67-46, in a manner more to Jones's liking.

"With the exception of our effort on the boards, on our defensive boards, I thought we did a pretty good job," Jones said. "We certainly competed a lot better, and it was a different kind of competing because Saint Francis is much different physically than Oklahoma."

American was out-rebounded, 32-23, but the Eagles played with enough energy and grit to ensure the 2,123 fans left the arena in as raucous a mood as they arrived.

As the first half wound to a close, Saint Francis forward Mislav Jukic backed his way toward the basket and threw up consecutive shots, both of which were blocked by freshman forward Stephen Lumpkins. Jukic's third attempt clanked off the rim. The buzzer sounded and American headed to the locker room with a 12-point lead.

Senior guard Garrison Carr, who shot 45.2 percent from three-point range last season, did not connect from beyond the arc last night until well into the second half. Carr missed his first six three-point attempts before making five straight after the intermission.

"Once they dropped the banner and I saw that we had a good crowd here, I was just overly excited," said Carr, who finished with a game-high 28 points. "But once the team got going and I was able to sit myself down in the locker room for halftime and calm myself down, things just got back to normal."

While Carr struggled to find his shot in the first half, senior forward Brian Gilmore picked up the slack. With just less than nine minutes remaining in the opening period and his team ahead by one point, Gilmore drove the baseline and dunked over Red Flash forward Kurt Hoffman. Gilmore, who finished with 13 points, let out a howl and then made the accompanying free throw.

"We knew we weren't going to be facing the same type of team tonight but that we had to prepare to be physical," Gilmore said. "I think we did an okay job, but I think it kind of showed on the rebounding edge that we could have been tougher."

With the win, American improved to 1-1 on the season.

"We had to just refocus ourselves [after the Oklahoma loss], and now that we have a win under our belt, we can get back to playing American basketball," Carr said. "We're heading in the right direction."

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