An unexpcted foul fouled up American University's plans for victory last night. Instead, Rich Bohlander's sixth assist of the game set up Charlie Naddaff for a layup with three seconds left and undefeated Lafayette tripped the Eagles, 81-79.
It was a tough loss for AU and Coach Gary Williams for a variety of reasons other than the manner of execution. Williams was an assistant at Lafayette for six years and AU assistants Jay Mottola and Frank DiLeo both captained the Leopards. Additionally, it was the East Coast Conference open for both teams.
Worst of all was the fact that the Eagles had battled back from a 12-point deflicit in the first half to carry a 79-76 lead into the final minute. They came apart of the foul line.
With 1:04 remaining, freshman Ed Sloane missd the first half of a one-and-one opportunity that could have wrapped it up. Then, at the other end, Robin Hoey, the Eagles' best ball-handler and free-throw shooter, fouled out after grabbing a rebound. Williams was still screaming about referee Fred Hikel's call long after the game was over.
"That was a terrible call and I want you to print that," Williams said, "I've never bitched at an official publicly before, but that was awful. There was no contact. He had gotten the ball before the whistle. It was right in front of me."
Nevertheless, Bohlander walked to the line and Hoey went to the bench. Bohlander made the first, cutting the deficit to 79-77, but missed the second and AU's Dennis Ross rebounded. Ross wound up on the floor and this time the call was traveling.
With 29 seconds left, Bohlander hit a jump shot from the key and the game was tied. Williams requested a timeout and the Eagles set up for the last shot.
"We planned to start running a set play with 12 seconds left," Williams said. "We didn't expect a foul."
Just at that 12-second mark, however, the Leopards' Dana Mead reached around freshman Gordon Austin and the whistle blew. Following a Lafayette timeout, Austin missed and the Leopards' Tom Best rebounded. Lafayette moved quickly to the other end, where the 6-foot-10 Naddaff netted his 19th and 20th points.
They fouled a pretty good shooter," Williams said. "We got what we wanted, either a good shot or a chance at the line. It just didn't go in. It's a tough loss for several reasons, but give Lafayette credit. They're a good team. We got them last year the same way."
AU managed to call time with two seconds on the clock and Chris Knoche tried a 55-footer that was short at the buzzer.
AU fell behind early, trailing 18-7 after Lafayette scored on nine consecutive possessions. The Leopards riddled AU's 3-2 zone and 13 first-half turnovers contributed to the Eagles' discomfiture.
Mike Whitman, with five assists and three steals, led the Leopards to their biggest margin at 39-27 with three minutes left in the half. Then AU's full-court press took effect and the Leopards were blanked to the intermission.
Hikel charged Lafayette Assistant Will Rackley with a technical foul in a key spot, 39-35, with the Leopards in possession. Bob Bowers made both shots and it was 39-38 at the break.
Neither team could manage more than a four-point lead during the hard-fought second half. The Eagles hit 16 of 30 shots and seemed headed for victory, but failures at the foul line and Lafayette's penchant for grabbing key offensive rebounds kept it close.
Bower, who bruised his right knee in a first-half collision with teammate Tom Pfotzer, was the game's high scorer with 23 points.