When the American Express, Boo Bowers, was derailed a week ago with a busted wheel, American University Coach Gary Williams called on spare cog Mark Nickens, who, in his first two starts, has helped the Eagles run their consecutive victory streak to 10.
Bowers, a senior, was the nation's second-leading scorer with a 28-point average when he suffered severely strained knee ligaments last Wednesday against Delaware. He will be out indefinitely. Enter Nickens, a 6-foot-5 guard/forward from Mackin High School who hadn't started a game all season. He was more a guard than forward and had a broken nose.
After making first team all-Met status at Mackin his senior year, Nickens went to Texas Christian before sitting out a year and transferring to AU. In his first year of eligibility as an Eagle, Nickens is still fighting off the effects of last year's inactivity. So far, he is playing well.
Against Bucknell on Saturday, Nickens started in Bowers' spot at forward and scored 15 points and grabbed six rebounds to lead the Eagles to a six-point decision and a school-record ninth consecutive victory.
In a 69-59 road victory over Rider Monday night, Nickens played a complementary role, scoring 10 points and getting seven rebounds. His front court mate, Dennis Ross, did the heavy damage with a career-high 22 points and 10 rebounds. That triumph gave American the nation's seventh longest Division I winning streak.
Nickens is now averaging 11 points per game, shooting 52 percent from the field and is third on the team in rebounding. He, guard Eddie Sloane, point man Robin Hoey, Ross and center Juan Jones are out to prove that the Eagles won't fall apart without Bowers.
"We feel we can keep this streak going," Nickens said yesterday. "I'm the one who is starting in Boo's place, but the flow of our offense involves the entire team, not just one individual. We all are taking up the scoring slack Boo left. We don't have any one person who can pick up that much slack anyway."
With Sloane averaging 16 points and Hoey 13, largely an outside jump shots, Williams is relying on the 200-pound Nickens for inside muscle, a few garbage baskets and a lot of rebounding.
"Versatility," said Nickens. "At first when I got to college, coaches would say that being 6-5 was an awkward size; too big to handle the ball against smaller guards, but too small to play a true forward spot. But I like to handle the ball. We can run a three-guard or two-guard offense when I'm in the lineup."
The Eagles were scared thay they had lost Nickens from the lineup for at least a few games after he broke his nose three weeks ago against Old Dominion in the final of the Kiwanis Holiday Tournament, which AU won.
"I was trying to strip their center of the ball off the rebound," Nickens said. "I was behind him and he came down and squared off like he was supposed to. I missed the ball, but caught his arm on the bridge of my nose.
"My nose was bleeding, but I grabbed a towel and just kept playing. For the next two nights I went without sleep it bothered me so much, so I went to the team doctor and then a bone specialist at Sibley Hospital who told me it was broken."
Nickens refuses to wear a mask, helmet, or any other protective device to keep the nose from being smashed again. "Everything is all right as long it's not hit again in the same spot," he said. "Maybe I'm something of a kamikaze, but I figure if I wear something, it might be a little incentive for an opponent to try and intimidate me, or I might use it as a crutch. I'm not changing my style of play."
Nickens is more concerned about beating Lehigh on Saturday and West Chester State on Monday. That would give the Eagles a 12-game winning streak going into next Wednesday's game against Georgetown.