American University came back from deficits in the closing minutes in both regulation play and overtime and escaped with a 64-63 victory over William and Mary tonight when Mark Nickens connected on an 18-foot jump shot with four seconds left in the extra period. It was the seventh straight victory for the Eagles.
William and Mary, which saw its record dip to 10-7, held a 64-61 lead with just 35 seconds remaining after freshman Keith Cieplicki made one of two free throws.
But Nickens came back to connect on two free throws which brought the Eagles (12-5) to within one.
Then came a big defensive play by Ed Sloane. The junior guard slapped the in-bounds pass out of bounds off a William and Mary player. That allowed the Eagles to work the clock down for Nickens' game winner.
"The guy was overplaying me so I was able to pump fake and dribble around him," explained Nickens, who had 22 points but hit only nine of 27 field goal attempts against the nation's 10th-ranked defense. "Since I was near the free throw line and hadn't missed a free throw all night, I felt confident."
William and Mary did get one last shot off but Cieplicki's 35-footer rimmed off at the buzzer.
"When he let the shot go I had visions of the Tennessee game," said Eagle Coach Gary Williams, referring to his team's 59-58 loss on a similar shot.
The Eagles had two chances to win in regulation. Gordon Austin missed on a 14-footer and the Indians grabbed the rebound. However, after a timeout, a full-court in-bounds pass by William and Mary's Billy Barnes went out of bounds, leaving one tick left on the clock.
Nickens had an open 16-footer in the corner, but overshot the basket, sending the contest into overtime, 59-59.
William and Mary had held a five-point advantage, 59-54, with under two minutes remaining. Nickens made a long jumper to close the gap to three and, after the hosts' Kenny Bowen missed a one-and-one opportunity, Fernando Aunon's three-point play made it a tie with 57 seconds remaining.
After stealing Bowen's in-bounds pass, the Eagles worked the clock down until the final miss by Austin.
American frittered away several chances at the foul line as Sloane, a 70 percent free throw shooter, missed four one-and-one opportunities in the second half, two in the closing minutes.
There were 11 ties during regulation play as neither team could muster more than a five-point lead.
During a stretch midway through the first half the Eagles' pressure defense took its toll and they were able to mount the biggest lead at 24-20.
However, William and Mary outscored them, 11-2, in the final 7:30 of the first half to go up, 31-26, before Aunon's tip-in at the buzzer cut the lead to three.