Robin Hoey weaved his way up the court and made a 10-foot jump shot with one second left to give American University a 71-69 comeback victory over La Salle last night before 2,100 at Fort Myer, allowing the Eagles to retain first place in the East Coast Conference East Section.
The Eagles, 8-0 in the ECC and 16-4 overall, scored the game's final six points, including the last five by Hoey, a senior point guard. La Salle (7-2, 13-9), one of the top free-throw shooting teams in the nation, lost its touch from the line in the second half, missing the front end of six one-and-one situations. On the last one, Phil Burton missed with 11 seconds left. AU's Dennis Ross got the rebound and set up Hoey's game-winner.
AU leads Temple and St. Joseph's each 7-1, by a game, but still has to play each rival in Philadelphia. Regular-season records are important because the top two teams in each section get the homecourt advantage through the semifinals of the league tournament, the winner of which gets an automatic NCAA bid.
La Salle missed five free throws but still managed to slip ahead, 69-65, with 59 seconds remaining. The Eagles cut the deficit to three points on a free throw by Gordon Austin eight seconds later.
AU went without a field goal for an 8:35 span in the second half, had little choice but to foul. But La Salle's Brent Hagwood and Kevin Lynam, the fifth-best foul shooter in Division I, both missed front ends of bonus situations between misses by the Eagles.
"No excuses, none at all," said disappointed La Salle Coach Lefty Ervine. "We should have won it. When your best free-throw shooter misses, you know you're in trouble. We did everything right and got the free shots; we just didn't make them."
After Lynam's miss, he committed his fifth foul hacking Hoey on a jump shot with 28 seconds left. Hoey, AU's top foul shooter this season and leading scorer last night with 21 points, sank both and AU crept within 69-68.
AU fouled Dave Davis, but the little-used sophomore missed his chance to be a hero as his first attempt hit off the rim. Ross grabbed the rebound and got the ball out to Hoey on the wing. The senior point guard dribbled downcourt quickly and tried a 15-footer. He was fouled again and made one of two shots to tie the game at 69 with 15 seconds to play.
La Salle never got a chance to work much time off the clock as Hoey was called for a foul on Burton at midcourt. But Burton's first shot was off and Ross grabbed his 15th rebound of the night. Hoey took the outlet pass the length of the court, snaking his way through three cautious Explorer defenders into the lane. His high-arching shot was good and La Salle, which had lost only to powers De Paul and Notre Dame in its seven previous games, fell to fourth place in the league.
"I was looking for a foul on the last shot but they let me go all the way in the lane," Hoey said. "The first time I was looking for the shot and they fouled me. We looked past Navy toward this game and got beat (AU lost, 90-77). But we wanted to win this one, badly. Even had I missed, we had them in overtime. They had lost three players and were tired."
La Salle lost Lynam, point guard Greg Webster and leading scorer Boo Willams in the second half. But the Eagles, who led by as many as five points in the first half, went into a long drought and the Explorers hung close until they tied the game before eventually going ahead in the final minute.
Despite their height disadvantage, AU handled the taller, more aggressive visitors on the boards, getting four more rebounds. Mark Nickens, who had 17 points, made three straight jump shots midway in the first half and had two rebounds to help the Eagles take a 30-25 lead with 5:11 left.
But Lynam, a good outside shooter, found the range and made four baskets and two foul shots to pull La Salle within a point, 36-35, with 2:20 to play.
La Salle was just beginning to assert on the boards with 6-foot-8 Williams and 6-5 Don Word getting inside for second shots. But the fast-breaking Eagles led at halftime, 42-39.