American's speedy Eagles turned on the afterburners in the second half and blew past Lehigh, 81-64, in an East Coast Conference game before 1,150 at Fort Myer last night.
In addition to stretching its school victory streak to 11, AU (5-0 in the ECC and 11-2 overall) now has the nation's fifth-longest Division I winning streak. Lehigh, losing its third game in its last four starts, fell to 1-3 in the ECC and 8-4 overall.
Playing its third game without Boo Bowers (sprained knee), the school's all-time scoring leader, AU placed four players in double figures and also got a fine effort from reserve guard Gordon Austin. It was Austin's play midway in the second half that led to the Eagles finally putting away the Engineers.
AU led, 57-49, with 12 minutes to play, when Austin dealt four of his six assists to help the Eagles explode to a 14-point advantage with 5:05 left. His first assist went to center Juan Jones, who had his first career stuff. Ed Sloane (14 points) followed with a layup, Jones converted another Austin pass into a layup and Mark Nickens (16 points) scored another basket following an offensive rebound and suddenly AU led, 69-55. Austin had three more assists, two of them to Sloane, before Lehigh packed it in.
"They did a good job of preventing us from running like we wanted in the first half," said AU Coach Gary Williams. "We felt we had a deeper bench and wanted to go hard at them, especially in the final 10 minutes of the first half. We just wore them down in the second half. We had a good rebounding game and were able to get the ball inside more."
Not much taller than the hosts, Lehigh not only went cold form the outside in the second half but got into serious foul trouble. One glaring error showed the Engineers' scorer missing a foul on starting 6-foot-7 center Brian Collins. He picked up three early before being called for a fourth with 1:32 left in the first half.
Engineer Coach Brian Hill, told Collins had only three fouls, left him in the game. Seconds later the sophomore drew another foul for pushing Dennis Ross on a rebound attempt. Exit Collins with seven points and three rebounds.
"I didn't take him out because I thought he had three and hoped he wouldn't get a cheapie before the half ended," said Hill, still bristling over what he thought was bad bookkeeping by the official scorer. "When he got that fourth, I was ready to yank him, but they said it was his fifth. That hurt because I had to move a 6-foot-4 guy to center."
With no one to plug up the middle, Ross, who enjoyed an 18-point game on seven-for-eight field goal shooting, Nickens and Sloane had no problem penetrating the Engineers' tired defense for easy baskets in the final 10 minutes.