American quickly dispelled any notions outmanned Catholic may have had of freezing the ball last night by sprinting to a 25-10 lead and coasting to a 101-64 victory, its 14th straight, before 1,600 at Fort Myer.
The almost effortless 11th consecutive defeat of Catholic (9-15) proved to be merely the tuneup American (19-5) needed for next week's East Coast Conference home games against St. Joseph's and Temple, which will decide the league's regular-season champion and top seedings in its tournament.
American played without its second-leading scorer, guard Ed Sloane, who sprained his left ankle in practice Thursday. Sloane, expected to play Tuesday night against St. Joseph's, wasn't missed.
Gordon Austin had nine points and his 10 assists gave him a school-record 166 this season.. Mark Nickens led the Eagles with 19 points and four teammates were in double figures.
Chuck Oswald led the Division III Cardinals with 26 points. Marty Favret, who made all 14 shots in his last game, ran his streak to 15 before missing a 20-footer in the first half. He had eight points.
The Eagles played an aggressive man-to-man defense and shut down the Cardinals. In the first half, American got nine turnovers and forced Catholic to miss 17 of 28 shots.
"We really wanted to emphasize defense because I wasn't happy with our last three games," said Coach Gary Williams. "We wanted to have a good defensive game to get ready for St. Joseph's. At times, I thought we played pretty well. Juan Jones (11 points, five rebounds) has gotten used to that mask (to protect a broken cheekbone) and is going after the ball like he used to. Overall, it was a good effort by everyone."
Nickens, Austin and Ferdie Aunon provided most of the offense in the first half as American rushed to a commanding 55-29 lead. Nickens scored 10 points, Aunon had nine and four rebounds and Austin had seven points, eight assists and two steals.
American led by only a basket, 8-6, before Austin got his team running. He made an 18-footer, then assisted on baskets by Nickens, Jones and Andre Adams for a 16-8 margin.
After a basket by Catholic's Darren Heath, a 24-10 spurt gave American a 42-20 lead with five minutes left in the first half. Eight Eagles scored in the run as Williams substituted freely.
"With a big game coming up, you want to do everything perfect," said Aunon, who had 11 points and seven rebounds. "This was the kind of game we wanted to have. Work hard on defense and get everyone in the game for morale purposes."
The Eagles got most of the shots they wanted and made 43 of 81. They also had no problem outrebounding the Cardinals, 52-35.
Unlike recent in some past games, the Eagles didn't relax in the second half. A Nickens-led surge pushed his team to a 35-point lead with about 10 minuted to play and the Eagles now own the third-longest winning streak among the nation's Division I schools.