American University's basketball team used its vastly superior speed and quickness to launch an attack on the Air Force's bewildered guards and declawed the Falcons, 84-57, tonight for third place in the Manufacturers Hanover Trust Classic.

The victory was far more decisive than the bigger, slower Iona team had scored over the Falcons in the first round Friday night.

In the championship game, rallying St. Bonaventure bothered Iona with a full-court press, but couldn't capitalize on the opportunities it produced and fell to the host, 75-67, despite 32 points by forward Earl Belcher. Iona's Jeff Ruland was named the tournament's most valuable player.

"We'll beat them worse than Iona eight out of 10 times," said Gary Williams, the AU coach.

At that point, Jim Valvano, the Iona coach, passed Williams in the Mulcahy Center hallway and said, "You beat the heck out of them. That's speed."

American (5-5) applied constant pressure on the Air Force Academy guards and reaped appropriate rewards immediately, in the form of four straight turnovers, that helped the Eagles establish a 10-2 lead.

Williams benched center Piper Harvey and power forward Dennis Ross as starters tonight, after the pair had totaled only four points in the past two games. He figured they would have less pressure coming off the bench, and they did, with Harvey, scoreless in the past two games, making 10 points and Ross six.

"We've been playing good enough to just lose to good teams," Williams said, referring to strong efforts against Wake Forest, St. Bonaventure, Lafayette and Navy.

Tonight the Eagles showed the continuity of a team with six new players finally ready to break loose. In opening a 46-25 halftime lead, AU compiled some impressive stats: 65 percent shooting, only four turnovers, six steals and a 1.4-points per possession offense.

The key was point guard Robin Hoey, a junior-college transfer. He runs AU's offense with aplomb. Many a team that presses with the abandon of the Eagles also gives up the ball with bad shots and turnovers.

However, through the first half and until he got into foul trouble, Hoey was the classic middle man in the fast break, pushing the ball to the basket when he should have and setting up the offense when the opportunity was not there.

'I learned that in junior college," said Hoey, who grew up on the same block in Shelby, N.C., as David Thompson. "You have to know when you can go and when you can't. In major college ball, it's more important because the teams have a tendency to get back better."

The smoothness of AU's offense was evident after, early in the second half, Air Force's Dean Christian, a 34 percent shooter this season, successfully launched three straight bazooka shots and cut AU's advantage to 45-33.

"We can get a layup whenever we want one," Hoey said later.

And he showed it then.

The Eagles worked their offense to perfection, getting the ball to star forward Boo Bowers on the baseline near the basket. All Air Force defender Rich Simmons could do to stop the nation's seventh-leading scorer from making a basket was to foul him.

Bowers made the free throws, added a layup on America's next possession, and the game again was in solid control for the Eagles. Bowers finished with 26 points, three assists and three steals in 36 minutes.

"I played last summer with David Thompson and John Drew," Hoey said, "and in two years Bowers will be as good. He's the best offensive player I've ever played with."