Everybody knows about Gordon Austin's ability to penetrate, pass and play frustrating defense: American's 5-foot-11 junior guard is among the Division I leaders in assists and steals. But not too many people know of his outside shooting ability. Harvard found out the hard way last night.
Austin made nine of 13 shots and scored 23 points to lead American to its ninth straight victory, an 84-66 win over Harvard at Fort Myer.
American (14-5) led, 20-4, after seven minutes and never allowed Harvard to come closer than nine points. Harvard was led by Don Fleming's 20 points and Joe Carrabino's 13. Bob Ferry Jr., a freshman from De Matha High School and son of the Bullets general manager, made six of eight shots, but the Crimson shot just 48 percent.
The Eagles shot 60 percent, and also got 23 points from guard Ed Sloane and 18 points from forward Mark Nickens. But Austin, who also had seven assists and five steals, was the catalyst to whatever offensive and defensive success the Eagles had last night.
When defenders sagged to stop AU's leading scorers, Nickens and Sloane, Austin made shot after shot from 15 feet and beyond, until Harvard (7-10) had to come out and guard him. When the Crimson did that, Austin pushed the ball inside to Sloane (nine of 16) and Nickens (eight of 14) for short jumpers or layups.
"Since Gordon didn't look for his shot much in previous years, defenses back off of him," Nickens said. "But now, they have to play him tighter and respect another facet of his game. He could always shoot, but it was a weapon he didn't use as much as driving the lane and looking to kick the ball out. Now, when a guy goes out to guard Gordon, it leaves us man-to-man inside."
Nickens and Sloane inside against slower players usually means automatic baskets or foul shots.
Austin set the tone last night on the first play of the game. He drove down the lane and pulled up for a jump shot, giving the Eagles a 2-0 lead. On AU's next possession, he scored on a 22-footer from the right corner for a 4-2 lead. After Sloane scored eight straight points to lead the Eagles to their 20-4 margin, Austin made a 20-footer and a 18-footer. The Harvard defense was slow to react.
"Most teams know I'd rather penetrate than shoot the jumper," said Austin, ranked ninth nationally in assists and seventh in steals before last night's game. "But they were sagging back into almost a 2-3 zone against us, so I looked for the shot more than ususal."
The Eagles took a 30-15 lead as Austin, Nickens and Sloane made 14 of 20 shots, and Coach Gary Williams gave his substitutes a rare, early workout. Harvard, behind the scoring of Fleming, the school's all-time leading scorer, pulled to within nine points several times but got no closer.
"The thing we need, though, is a killer instinct," said Sloane. "We let up too often, like we did just before halftime. We've got to learn how to take teams out, just roll them over after we build up a lead like we did tonight."
Still, the Eagles didn't figure to be so impressive without 6-6 junior center Juan Jones, who will miss at least two more games with a fractured right jaw.
"With Juan and David Ridley (out indefinitely with a sprained right knee) injured," Sloane said, "Mark, Gordon and I feel we have to provide some leadership and get the younger guys to follow."
Last year, when all-America forward Boo Bowers was injured, AU went 16-3 without him. Williams hopes to have Jones back soon, but with the trio of juniors playing so well, the Eagles appear to be in good shape.