Not quite as quickly as you can say "Boo," Russell Bowers, American University's splendid sophomore forward, has become accustomed to playing basketball without his friend and former teammate, Stan Lamb.

The old Bowers was already one of the best, if not the best, all-around players in the metropolitan area. The new Bowers, however, is devastating.

Bowers erupted for 37 points and 18 rebounds, both career highs, in Tuesday's 87-84 victory at Hofstra, a game that sent the Eagles into the East Coast Conference playoffs with a 14-12 record.

The Eagles open the playoffs Monday at Fort Myer at 8 p.m. against Drexel.

It was not easy for Bowers to change his game because there were times when he wouldn't admit that Lamb, the Eagles' leading scorer until he was declared academically ineligible and was dismissed from school a month ago, was no longer around to take the pressure off.

That realization kept hitting home every time Bowers took the court. If the defense played man to man against him, he was double and even triple-teamed. If it was a zone, it collapsed around him. If he wanted the ball, he often had to travel to the deepest corners of the court to get it.

Not anymore.

The defenses are still double-teaming and collapsing on him, but Coach Gary Williams came up with the perfect antidote against Hofstra. He moved Bowers outside -- to the head of the key -- and told him to do whatever he needed to get the ball in the basket.

With all of that room to roam, Bowers was virtually unstoppable Tuesday night.

He had adjusted his game and learned how to cope with the constant double-teaming inside, but by playing out front, Hofstra couldn't collapse its defense on Bowers and he was introduced to a whole new world -- one similar to the one he was so comfortable in when Lamb was still playing.

Bowers probably has been the most deeply affected, next to Lamb himself, by that turn of events. Normally a man who masks his emotions on and off the court, Bowers admits the dismissal of Lamb changed him.

"I was tense and nervous on the court at first," he said. "That was something I never used to be. Not having Stan out there and knowing what happened to him was the reason. I think I have adjusted now, but it took time.

"It's not so much that he got thrown out of school that upset me so," Bowers said. "It's the way they did it. They took advantage of him. They made him an example. It gets me upset. We really missed his 24 points a game, but how this whole thing was handled is what really hurts."

Bowers, however, is trying to accept the situation. Outwardly, he still seems the kind of easygoing, unselfish sophomore whom every coach wishes he had on his team.

His 37-point effort against Hofstra gives Bowers a 22.6 average for the season, making him by far the leading scorer among players for the metropolitan area's major schools.

Despite his lofty average, Bowers is still the consummate team player and Williams had to beg him to shoot the ball more after Lamb was lost.

"It's just that Boo is so unselfish that he didn't know how to play any other way," Williams said.

Bowers said he also has learned to shoot the ball quicker when he gets it down low, instead of dribbling it.

"That makes it tougher to double-team me, too," he said.

One-man teams are usually unsuccessful, but Williams, Bowers and the rest of the AU squad recognize that the ball has to be in Bowers' hands as much as possible for AU to win.

The Hofstra game is an example of what Bowers can do when he has the ball.

Unlike most high-scorers, the 6-foot-5, left-handed Bowers is not a flashy, I-must-be-the-center-of-attention type.

His style is just like the "Earth, Wind and Fire" and Norman Connors music he listens to -- it grabs your attention, but at the same time it is mellow.

"I like his manner," said Don DiJulia, a former AU assistant coach and now athletic director at St. Joseph's. "He is always poised and under control. Last season he was one of the all-time great freshmen in a non big-time program. He is well known in the East and before he is through, he will be well known nationally.

"A game is so much a team game that rarely do you see one guy who is so far above the others on a given team. Boo is one."

As talented as he is, Bowers never has wanted to be only a scorer. His dreams are not of hitting 100 points in a game, but of scoring 50 and adding 50 assists.

"I don't think there's any question that he's great; just look at the record," said St. Joseph's Coach Jim Lynam, who coached Bowers at AU last season.

"Boo is a complete player and he has the ability to get his own shot. He can create things.He gives the ball up so well, though, that it is tough to key on him. He was unselfish from the first day I saw him."

"I've always tried to be a solid player," Bowers said. "It's just not my style to shoot all the time. I'm not even a real pure shooter because I don't have an automatic jumper. I consider myself a scorer.

"If the jumper is falling, I'll stay with it, but if it's off, I like to take the base-line drive and go inside."

"You have to be with Boo every day to appreciate him," said Williams. "We have to have him shoot more now, but he just isn't the type who goes out after a lot of points. He gets quiet points. You don't realize he's scoring as much as he is, but after the game you look at the stats and he has 30."

Even though Bowers has come to grips with the fact that he has to shoot more, it is still a strange feeling for him to look to the basket first and to his teammates second.

"It's tough for me because my whole life I've been used to dishing it off, but coach is on me to shoot more. I know why and so I'll keep doing it," he said.

Bowers says basketball is the most important thing to him right now, "but that's only because it has been good to me and I'm doing well in it. If I wasn't doing as well as I am, something else would be more important. Right now, though, it's basketball and studying.

"The school gave me a scholarship worth $8,000 a year. I owe it to them to do the best I can while I'm here."

American University is getting more than it's money's worth.