Eagles Nab 8th Straight Victory

Carr's 28 Lifts AU Past Holy Cross: American 56, Holy Cross 50

Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 22, 2009; Page D09

The American men's basketball team moved to the brink of another Patriot League regular season title yesterday because Garrison Carr shook out of his scoring rut with a sensational second half and because the Eagles were able to overcome 1-of-17 shooting to start the game.

They defeated Holy Cross, 56-50, before 3,018 at Bender Arena because they began the second half with 11 consecutive points and made crucial free throws to thwart the Crusaders' late run. But the moment that essentially secured AU's eighth straight victory came with 1 minute 12 seconds left, the Eagles clutching to a three-point lead and the Crusaders with possession.

Senior forward Jordan Nichols, who did not have a shot attempt or a point, saved the ball from going out of bounds in front of the Holy Cross bench and, with his back to his teammates, flung it as far as he could. By the time Nichols looked up, AU guard Derrick Mercer had gathered the ball in stride beyond midcourt and breezed to the basket for an uncontested layup.

"I tried to get a hand on the ball, and then I figured I might as well keep it in play," Nichols said. "I was trying to get it as far away from the [Holy Cross] basket as I could."

The sequence relieved mounting pressure on the Eagles (19-7, 11-1), who had relinquished almost all of a 13-point lead. Thanks to the victory, which avenged a nine-point road loss to the Crusaders (14-13, 9-3) last month, the Eagles need to win just one of their final two games to clinch first place and home-court advantage throughout the league tournament for the second year in a row.

Carr, the favorite to win the league's player of the year award, scored 22 of his 28 points in the second half, including three three-pointers in a 72-second span, for his first 20-point game in almost a month. After their abysmal start, which produced two points in the first 11 1/2 minutes, the Eagles shot 18 of 30 and made eight of their final 10 three-point attempts.

"For a couple days now, I have been harping on our guys to channel the energy and channel the emotion because, whether they will admit it or not, since Holy Cross beat us up there, getting them here has been in the back of their minds," AU Coach Jeff Jones said. "It's foolish to think otherwise. . . . We didn't handle the emotion of the moment. We were excited, we were ready to play -- we were just going too fast."

Fortunately for the Eagles, Holy Cross was almost as bad and their deficit was never more than four. Leading 19-18 at halftime, AU forced four consecutive turnovers and Carr hit his first three three-point tries.

"Everything felt normal again," he said.

The lead grew to 12 before Andrew Beinert (18 points) made four three-pointers to help draw the Crusaders within 40-35 midway through the half.

Carr's three-point play and three-point shot pushed the lead to 12, but the Crusaders went on an 11-2 run and had possession when Nichols launched the ball to Mercer (11 points) for the key layup. Carr's five late free throws locked up AU's 14th victory in 15 games entering Wednesday's regular season home finale against third-place Navy.

Said Jones: "Our message to everybody at halftime was just, 'Hey, let's take a deep breath, have some fun and play like the team we are capable of being.' Certainly Garrison took that to heart."

ยท OLD DOMINION 80, LIBERTY 56: Gerald Lee scored 26 points and Ben Finney added 19 to lead the Monarchs to a nonconference victory over the Flames in Norfolk.

Lee, who went 13 of 16 from the field, became the 44th Old Dominion player to reach 1,000 career points. The Monarchs (18-9) won their fourth game in a row, while snapping the Flames' (20-9) four-game winning streak.

A dunk by Liberty's Anthony Smith cut Old Dominion's lead to 46-41 with 14:11 remaining in the second half. But that's as close as the Flames would get as the Monarchs pushed their margin to 11 points after Finney's three-pointer, a jumper by Lee and a free throw from Finney with 12:51 left to play.

Old Dominion increased its advantage to 72-52 with 4:36 remaining on a layup by Lee.

Darius James had nine assists and one turnover for the Monarchs.

Seth Curry led Liberty with 24 points on 9-of-21 shooting.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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