The opening act of American University's new basketball play, "Life without Boo," played to rave reviews last night.
For the first time in 93 games, the Eagles had to play without Boo Bowers, their all-time scoring leader. Bowers, one of the country's leading Division 1 scorers, will miss three to six weeks with a sprained right knee. If Bowers' supporting cast missed him, they didn't show it, stopping Bucknell, 75-65, in an East Coast Conference game before 1,500 at Fort Myer.
The victory was AU's ninth straight after two losses, extending the school record and giving the team its best start in eight years. The Eagles imprived their conference mark to 3-0. Bucknell, which trounced AU last year, 105-89, lost its fourth straight, dropping to 4-8 overall and 0-4 in the ECC.
"I knew if we lost, people would say we can't ein without Boo," said Eagle forward Ed Sloane, whose 20 points tied his season high. "There's no way I wanted to have to listen to that."
"We wanted this one bad; we wanted to win it for Boo," chimed in guard Robin Hoey, who also scored 20. "Of course we miss him a lot. He's ther greatest player I've ever played with. But we knew we had to show we can do it without him. It was just a lot harder."
It seemed extremely difficult early in the first half. When Al Leslie, who hit a school record 45 points in Bucknell's victory last year, scored 10 points in the opening five minutes, a repeat appeared imminent. AU Coach Gary Williams decided he'd seen enough and called time.
"When he calls those timeouts," Hoey chuckled, "we know what the deal is."
"Yeah, when Leslie hit those bombs, you bet I was thinking about last year," Williams said. "He's absolutely scary."
End of nightmare: Leslie virtually disappeared, never to score again in the half. Trailing, 22-21, the Eagles scored the next 10 points to take the lead for good and went to the locker room with a 42-32 advantage.
"I wanted to get off to a good start to build their confidence," Williams said. "When we didn't do it, I was a little worried. But they showed me a lot by coming back."
They showed him more by staying ahead. AU's lead bounced from as much as 12 to as little as six points during the final 20 minutes, close enough to make Williams uncomfortable but not paranoid. Every time Leslie, who had a game-high 23 points, or his teammates threatened, Sloane or Hoey or Mark Nickens repulsed them.
"As long as they work like that, that's all you can ask," Williams said contentedly. "They went through a tough thing tonight. We'll only get better."