With a one-point halftime lead over a Navy team that had made 73 percent of its shots, American University's players said they went into the locker room last night talking not about whether they would win a school-record 13th straight basketball game, but by how much.
"We weren't in our game and we were ahead. Everybody at halftime said we can blow them out," said guard Ed Sloane after the Eagles did exactly that, 93-78, at Fort Myer.
AU (18-5) played its game in the second half, regenerating the aggressive defense and excellent rebounding that has brought the Eagles 42 victories in the past two seasons. Last night, Sloane was the catalyst, holding Dave Brooks, Navy's excellent outside shooter, to four points in the second half. Brooks had scored 16 in the first half.
From a 44-43 halftime lead, American opened a 52-45 advantage in less than two minutes and expanded it to 68-56 in the next nine minutes. With 3 1/2 minutes left, the Eagles led by 81-62.
Navy's undoing was its inability to handle AU's full-court 1-3-1 zone press early in the second half and AU's controlling the rebounding, 35-28. Navy Coach Paul Evans, whose frustrations resulted in a technical foul in the second half, only had depressing thoughts going to his locker room at halftime.
"We turned the ball over 12 times and got killed on the boards," said Evans. "We had to shoot that well just to stay even."
Navy also had got little inside scoring the second half, with only 12 points from the four front-court players, who played most of the game. They combined for 21 in the first half when Navy (9-12) made 19 of its 26 shots. Guard Bob Romaine, with 15 second-half points, led the Midshipmen with 21 points; Brooks had 20.
American got 25 points from Mark Nickens, 21 and seven rebounds from Sloane, and 20 and seven assists from Gordon Austin. Meanwhile, center Juan Jones had eight rebounds, including an offensive one that set up an Austin layup early in AU's second-half surge, in his return after missing four games with a broken right cheekbone. Jones played with a protective mask.
Starting the season, Williams was concerned as to whether his players would sustain the intensity of their play last season, when they won a school-record 24 games.
"It means the third time in (his) four years that we've set the school record for wins," Williams said. "These guys have a lot of heart. A lot of people had written us off . . . as a one-shot deal."
Sloane said that the current team is better than last year's because, "We played together last year and know what's going to happen. That year we played together makes us a better team."
Said Austin, looking past Friday night's game against Division III Catholic U. to key East Coast Conference games next week against St. Joseph's and Temple and the league playoffs that give the winner an automatic NCAA tournament berth:
"A lot of people didn't think we could come close to what we did last year. Everything's in front of us now. I can't tell how far we'll go . . . We're familiar with each other's games. We're confident and that helps." Picture 1, Wearing face mask to protect fractured cheekbone, AU's Juan Jones contests for offensive rebound against Navy's Tim McDonnell. By Richard Darcey--The Washington Post; Picture 2, AU forward Gordon Austin gets inside the Navy defense to score. By Richard Darcey--The Washington Post