The play will stay in Gary Williams' mind for months, in Leon Kearney's mind much longer. The play that could have given American University a chance to win last night's East Coast Conference playoff opener instead helped Hofstra secure a 70-69 victory.
On an inbounds play with two seconds remaining, following the go-ahead basket by Hofstra guard Steve Brawley and an American timeout, Kearney was run over by Hofstra center Gary Cheslock. No foul was called, although on a similar play with 2:36 remaining AU guard Robin Hoey was charged with an offensive foul.
AU Coach Williams rushed onto the court, as did assistant Jay Mottola, and their discussions with officials Jody Silvester and Dave Pollack continued long after the teams had left for their dressing rooms. "It's a no-call situation," Williams said. "But if you call it at one end, why then don't you call it at the other?"
The foul on Hoey put Hofstra forward Doug Swanson on the free throw line. The 6-foot-7 junior, who scored seven of Hofstra's last 11 points, made the first of his one-and-one free throws to give Hofstra a 66-64 lead. Boo Bowers, who had a game-high 35 points and broke Will Jones' single-season scoring record, pulled AU within a point with a foul shot. With 38 seconds left, Bowers gave his team a 69-68 lead.
"I thought we had them," said Bowers, who scored 16 of AU's last 17 points. "I didn't think they were going to win."
But Brawley connected on a 10-foot jump shot from the left baseline. It was a moment of redemption for him, because with a minute remaining he had been called on a traveling violation.
The victory moved Hofstra (14-13) into the second round of the ECC playoffs against St. Joseph's, the Eastern Division regular-season champion, Tuesday night in Philadelphia. The defeat ended AU's season at 13-14.
The Eagles had led by as many as nine points, 45-36, midway through the second half and by five, 64-59, with 4:02 left in the game. It was then that AU fell back into a four-corners offense and Hofstra Coach Joe Harrington put 6-10 senior Jack Barry on Bowers.
The result: American did not score another basket until Bowers made a jump shot with 1:31 left to cut Hofstra's lead to 68-67. In that stretch, Barry blocked a shot by Bowers and drew an offensive foul from the 6-5 junior.
"In my mind, Barry was the key to the game," said Harrington, Hofstra's first-year coach and Lefty Driesell's former longtime assistant at Maryland. "He got Bowers out of his offense a little. And when they spread it out, I thought that lost their flow."
Harrington had mixed feelings about last night's victory, certainly the most notable of his Hofstra career. He was happy with the way his team had come back, but Williams was a teammate at Maryland and Harrington was the best man at Williams' wedding.
"They beat us during the season (92-80 at American Feb. 1)," Harrington said. "So I guess we're even."
Williams does not figure that way. At least not about these two possible fouls, one of which was called and one of which was not.
"Tough,' Williams said. "Very, very tough."