Mark Dearborn's 12-foot jumper with two seconds left gave St. Joseph's College a thrilling 62-61 East Coast Conference victory over American University last night at Fort Myer before 2,000 fans.
The Hawks, in improving their overall record to 18-7, used their experience under pressure -- they've won 10 games by four or less points -- to come from three points back in the final minute of play.
American, 13-12 and 5-5 in the league, trailed 58-56 with 3:12 to play. But Boo Bowers scored five straight points, the final two on a dunk following a steal and full-court dribble, to give the Eagles a 61-58 lead.
AU regained possession following a missed shot and called time with 54 seconds to play. Following the inbounds pass, Eagle Piper Harvey was called for a backcourt violation. St Joseph's Mike Morrow then missed two shots before Luke Griffin scored with 16 seconds to play.
Bowers, who finished with a game-high 26 points, was fouled by Griffin, after a timeout. Bowers missed a chance to clinch the victory when his free-throw attempt missed and Dearborn rebounded. blocked by Bowers and the ball came out to Dearborn, who scored the game-winner from the left of the key.
"That basket was a lot bigger than anything I've ever made before," said Dearborn, a 6-foot-5 sophomore forward who came to St. Joseph's on a track scholarship as a high jumper.
"I saw the ball come toward me and I figured I better go get it and shoot.
I try to keep a clock in my head and I knew there wasn't much time left. I wanted to get off a good shot, so I squared my shoulders and shot."
The victory for the Hawks, coached by former AU mentor Jim Lyman who left in 1978 to return to his alma mater, was their third straight squeaker. They beat Providence by two and Rhode Island by six in overtime. The win was the Hawks' 8th straight and they finished first in the ECC East with a 10-1 record.
"We just pull together and things keep happening for us," said Dearborn. "We make the best of each opportunity."
"The players do believe," Lynam said. "Even when things look bleak, they keep their composure."
Especially Dearborn, who might not have been in the game had starting forward John Smith not come down with flu and been kept back in Philadelphia.
"It's unlikely he (Dearborn) would have been playing," Lynam admitted. "Smith does so many intangible things."
The Hawks, who were led by Griffin and Boo Williams with 16 points apiece, grabbed an early lead. But then Bowers, scoring 13 first-half points, Harvey and freshman guard Gordon Austin rallied the Eagles to a 34-33 halftime lead.
A four-point St. Joseph's lead, 41-37, was the largest enjoyed by either team in the second half and the Eagles led the final 11 minutes until Dearborn's winning shot.
"We certainly did enough things right to win," said AU Coach Gary Williams, whose team must beat Temple Saturday at Fort Myer to gain a home-court advantage in the conference playoffs which will open Monday. Either home or away, AU will play Hofstra.
"Boo has won 20 games for us over the past two years so how can I complain about the missed free throw?" Williams asked.
"But I'm certainly pleased the way Harvey (12 points, 11 rebounds), Leon Kearney and Austin played off the bench."