Lumpkins scores 29 points to vault American into Patriot League semifinals

Stephen Lumpkins helps lift the Eagles into the Patriot League tournament semifinals with a career-high 29 points Wednesday.
Stephen Lumpkins helps lift the Eagles into the Patriot League tournament semifinals with a career-high 29 points Wednesday. (Joel Richardson For The Washington Post)
  Enlarge Photo    
By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 4, 2010

With a 10-point margin and a little more than a minute remaining, American University was safely on its way to another first-round victory in the Patriot League tournament and Navy was headed toward its ninth consecutive early dismissal.

Except the Eagles stopped making free throws. And the Midshipmen rediscovered their shooting touch. And when AU's Daniel Munoz missed a free throw with 6.2 seconds left, Navy had a chance to win or force overtime.

With no timeouts remaining, Romeo Garcia rushed the ball upcourt but hurried a shot, missing from 30-plus feet and allowing the fourth-seeded Eagles to escape with a 62-60 victory at Bender Arena.

"We kind of limped down the stretch," AU Coach Jeff Jones said. "It was enough."

Barely. The Eagles (11-19) were 5 of 15 from the line in the last three minutes, including 3 of 10 in the last 65 seconds, and committed two back-court turnovers.

Sophomore Stephen Lumpkins scored a career-high 29 points and equaled his career best in rebounds with 15 for his fifth double-double in six games. But his shaky free throw shooting (9 of 15) kept the fifth-seeded Midshipmen (13-17) in the game. Trailing by three, they twice missed layups. Nonetheless, Garcia's three-pointer with 7.1 seconds left cut the deficit to one, and after Munoz made 1 of 2 free throws, Garcia shot prematurely and missed well short.

"I still think we had two more dribbles left in us," said Midshipmen Coach Billy Lange, whose team has not won a tournament game since the 2000-01 semifinals.

Nonetheless, it was "great fury by our players. They missed some free throws too, which helped us. We needed a little bit of help when we were down that many points with a little bit of time left."

In beating the Midshipmen for the fifth straight time, the Eagles advanced to play at top-seeded Lehigh (20-10) on Sunday night. AU, the two-time defending champion, has not lost a first-round game since joining the league in 2001-02.

Senior Chris Harris, the league's leading scorer, had 20 points and sophomore Jordan Sugars added 13 points and nine rebounds for the Midshipmen, whose past three tournament losses have been by a total of eight points.

Navy was 11 of 33 on three-pointers, 8 of 18 on two-pointers. The Eagles had a 41-28 rebounding advantage.

Vlad Moldoveanu, AU's top scorer, shot 2 of 13 and finished with eight points. An 81 percent shooter, he was 2 of 5 from the line in the last two minutes.

"As soon as we started going to the free throw line, I thought we had it," he said. "Usually we knock them down."

It was the second tense finish between the teams in a week. Last Wednesday in Annapolis, the Eagles went the length of the court for the tying basket with 1.5 seconds left in the first overtime and ended up winning in the second extra period.

In the other semifinal, seventh-seeded Holy Cross, which upset No. 2 Bucknell, will visit third-seeded Lafayette on Sunday.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company