Firday night's 77-68 victory over Delaware was the sixth in a row for resurgent American University, which lost its first three games.
During the win streak the Eagles have averaged 87 points per game, shot 51 percent from the floor and established an average margin of victory of 19 points.
"Our defense has improved," said first-year Eagle Coach Gary Williams in citing the principal reason for the success. "We played good defense in our opening game against St. John's but were not as intense in losing to Alabama and Navy. We've picked it up again since then."
Williams has converted American from its former zone defense to a man-to-man pressing outfit. Guard Stan Lamb and forward Leon Kearney each average nearly three steals per game.
But Williams has not instituted the press solely to steal the ball. "We press to control the tempo of the game. I haven't been real happy with our set offense when an opponent has time to get back on defense."
One thing that has made Williams happy is the lay of Lamb, a burly 6-foot-2, 200-pound junior. Lamb has raised his 1977-78 scoring average 13 points to a team-leading 23 per game, has three 30-point-plus games this season and is sinking 51 percent of his shots.
"Stan has the ability to get his shots off; he can take the pounding a highscoring guard receives," said Williams. "He has worked hard on his defense and ball-handling, which are two things that might have held him back in the past."
Lamb, sophomore forward Russell (Boo) Bowers (19.2 points per game) and Kearney (10.3, 55 percent fieldgoal accuracy) have all benefited from the unselfishness of point guard Mark Garlitos.
Garlitos is scoring less than last season but contributes 6.3 assists per game, including a high of 14 against St. Mary's (Md.).
"We're getting good shots," said Williams. "The guys are looking for each other. All five starters are shooting over 50 percent."
When regular center Piper Harvey had to sit out three games because of a concussion, Williams turned to backup Tom Pfotzer. The 6-10 junior responded with nine- and 10-rebound games, shot 57 percent from the field and played good defense.
The first forward off the bench is usually Ray Voelkel, the Division I consecutive-field-goal record holder (25), who is shooting 92.7 percent from the field (25 of 27).