By Kathy Orton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 6, 2011; 11:58 PM
After the buzzer sounded on American's 73-71 double-overtime loss to Lafayette in a Patriot League semifinal, the players jogged off the court in stunned disbelief mixed with profound grief. Vlad Moldoveanu, who wanted nothing more than to win a championship, pulled his jersey over his face to hide the tears streaming down his cheeks.
"I'm really sorry that this team couldn't bring back the championship to where it belongs," said fellow senior Nick Hendra, who also wept openly after the loss. "I feel personally responsible for that."
The second-seeded Eagles' stunning loss at Bender Arena on Sunday evening meant No. 6 seed Lafayette (13-18) became the lowest seed in Patriot League history to make the final. For only the second time in 20 seasons, the higher seed did not advance out of the semifinal game.
Moldoveanu scored 25 points, Stephen Lumpkins added 19 points and 11 rebounds, and Troy Brewer had 14 points for the Eagles (22-9) whose bid for a third appearance in the league championship game in four years fell short.
Moldoveanu had a chance to put the game away with 11 seconds remaining in the second overtime and American leading, 71-70, but his wide open shot from the left corner hit the rim and bounced out of bounds. Lafayette got the ball to Tony Johnson who flew up the court before finding Jim Mower on the left wing in front of the Leopards' bench. As Mower sank the three-point basket with two seconds remaining, the Lafayette bench and the Leopards' fans erupted.
There wasn't much the Eagles could do with the time left on the clock, and Darion Benbow made sure there was no miracle finish by batting down the inbounds pass at the buzzer sounded.
"We, slash I, missed big shots," said Moldoveanu, who scored his 1,000th point in an American uniform in the first half. "I feel really guilty for it. I've got to take a lot of blame."
American had won 14 in a row against Lafayette and was 4-0 against the Leopards in the Patriot League tournament. But Lafayette had pushed the Eagles to double overtime the last time these teams met, a 95-92 victory for American. And the Leopards were not about to let this game slip through their grasp.
Lafayette appeared the more loose, more confident team on Sunday, while American seemed tight. The Eagles looked frustrated at times because they couldn't get into any sort of rhythm. Eagles Coach Jeff Jones didn't fault his team's effort after the game.
"I don't think we played well. We played awfully hard," Jones said. "Lafayette was better. They made the big shots. They made the big plays. They made one more play than we did. I don't know if we could have played any harder."
American dominated the area around the basket, outscoring Lafayette, 44-20, in the paint. But the Leopards did their most damage from behind the arc, making seven three-pointers, two of which came at the end of regulation and the second overtime.
Lafayette forced the first overtime when Ryan Willen made a three-point shot with 12.9 seconds remaining in regulation. American had held the Leopards without a field goal for nearly seven minutes when Willen sank his three.
In the first overtime, Brewer made a pair of free throws to put American up, 62-61, with 45.8 seconds left. Lumpkins fouled Mower on a putback on Lafayette's next possession. Mower missed his first free throw, but made the second to tie the score. Daniel Muoz missed a running jumper along the right baseline to send the game into a second extra period.
American scored on its first four possessions of the second overtime to take a 70-64 lead. But just as it appeared the Eagles were going to take control, Lafayette stormed back. American scored only one point the final 3 minutes 17 seconds of the overtime, a free throw by Lumpkins.
"I'm not really sure what happened," Moldoveanu said. "We were up six. It felt like the next second, they were right back in the game, the game was tied. We said we wanted to be a championship team, but you have to defend to be a championship team. I don't think we did that very well tonight."