Only in a fairy tale could a basketball game be so exciting. In a topsy-turvey tug of war that kept 4,250 fans at Fort Myer on an emotional roller-coaster for 40 minutes, Georgetown, on a last-second blocked shot by senior center Mike Frazier, shattered American University's 12-game winning streak, 74-72, last night.
The Hoyas (12-8) led by 15 points at halftime, saw the Eagles cut it down to four after nine minutes, and built it back to 15 just two minutes later, only to be caught from behind a second time to set up a dramatic finish, after which AU got a standing ovation as the Eagles left the floor.
With 1:40 remaining and the contest tied at 72-72, Eric Floyd sank an 18-foot jump shot from the top of the key for the margin of victory over an AU team playing without all-America leading scorer and rebounder Boo Bowers. He sat out his fifth straight game with a sprained knee.
The Eagels (12-3), thoroughly outplayed the first half, trailed, 64-49, with 11:01 left, before starting their second comeback of the night. AU had already cut a 45-30 deficit to 50-46 in the first three minutes of the second half. Eagle guard Eddie Sloane and swing man Mark Nickens, each of whom totaled 20 points for the game, combined for 32 of them in the second half.
Just as quickly as Georgetown had built its lead by shooting 60 percent for the half -- and the game -- the Eagles fought back in an effort to beat the Hoyas for the first time in six years.
AU's Juan Jones and Dennis Ross made four straight free throws and put the Eagles into a 72-72 tie with 2:02 remaining, bringing a roar from the Eagle partisans that seemed to quake the old gym.
"Sometimes we play well physically, and sometimes mentally, but we've never seemed able to put the two together," said Hoya Coach John Thompson of this team's disappearing leads.
His only true star, Floyd, had made five of seven shots the first half when the Hoya guards destroyed the Eagles by making 11 of 14 shots. But Floyd hit just two of seven the second half as the Eagles executed their various zone defenses with more vigor. However, Floyd, a preseason all-America, swished the 18-footer from behind a screen to give the Hoyas their 74-72 lead.
Ross missed a turnaround jumper with a minute remaining and the Eagles were forced to foul Georgetown's Eric Smith, an 84 percent free-throw shooter. But Smith, as has been the Hoya custom this season, missed the front end of his bonus situation and AU took possession with 40 seconds left and a chance to tie the game if had so impatiently awaited all season.
But the Eagles seemed to panic. They took too much time passing the ball around the perimeter of the court and settled for a 25-foot jump shot by Nickens with 11 seconds left. The shot bounced out, was kicked out of bounds and awareded to American with five seconds left.
The inbounds pass went to senior point guard Robin Hoey, the wrong man to shoot this night, having made only three of 11 shots. Hoey dribbled from the far corner around to the right of the free-throw circle and attempted a 15-footer amidst a tangle of players.
The 7-foot Frazier, playing his second straight superb game off the bench and his best of the season (15 points, eight rebounds), put up both hands and blocked Hoey's shot with one second left.
"I felt like I drew a foul," said Hoey, sitting fully dressed in the stands afterwards. "Frazier did get his hands on the ball, but I thought Eric Smith hit my arm."
"It was a clean block," said AU Coach Gary Williams, whose technical foul for ranting at the officials near the end of the first disastrous half seemed to show his team that at least one person on the Eagle bench wasn't giving up.
"The last trip down the floor was the game," Williams said, "but we got too tentative about who would take the shot."
"We were trying to run a four-wide," Nickens further explained. "But we couldn't find the gaps that were normally there. Georgetown was in what looked like a 1-2-2 zone defense, but their zones are interchangeable to suit their convenience. We just didn't develop the play properly."
Williams refused to linger on the defeat in the locker room, praising his team's effort and lauding the play of georgetown's oftmaligned Frazier. "Everybody's always saying, 'Frazier this and Frazier that', but without Frazier, Georgetown doesn't win tonight," he said.
"I've never seen a greater effort in the second half," Williams continued. "We haven't played teams like Georgetown lately and it took us the first half to get used to their physical ability, their quickness and the way they execute.
"You don't know what it means to us to have a full house stand and applaud the team after losing this game."