American and Rider will be at less than full strength when they meet tonight at 8 o'clock in an East Coast Conference quarterfinal tournament game at Lawrenceville, N.J.

American's latest series of injuries involves playmaking guard Gordon Austin (elbow bruise), center Juan Jones (sore foot) and forward Mark Nickens (pulled groin). Of the three, Jones probably is the only questionable starter.

Coach Gary Williams indicated he would go with his undersized center if there was no possibility of irritating the arch injury.

If Jones is limited, then Andre Adams will replace him, leaving American "not very imposing in the middle," according to Williams, who has coached the team to a 20-7 record, despite not having a true center.

Nickens played only three minutes in the second half of Monday's first-round romp over Lehigh. He was not running well and hardly got involved in the offense, a departure for this 20-point-a-game scorer.

"He wasn't comfortable Monday but we gave him as much rest in the second half as we could," Williams said. "We need him in there but it's something you can't push. I would think he'll start and we'll see how he goes."

Austin hurt his elbow in a fall Monday but was scrambling in the second half, diving after loose balls. His elbow was stiff yesterday but he will play tonight.

The Eagles, perhaps, can afford to be limping for this one. Rider (11-15) lost to American, 81-52, in December at Ft. Myer and since has been besieged by academic and injury difficulties.

The Broncs' latest problem is a foot injury to freshman Ivan Felder, who has been averaging 21 points over the last nine games. Felder has been on crutches but might play.

Rider is without 6-foot-8 Kim Carter, who scored 13 points in the December game but now is academically ineligible, as is 6-5 Vaughan Coats, the second leading scorer off last year's team. Guard Fred Lee, perhaps the Broncs' best player, has been out most of the season with a bad knee.

"They are hurting, no doubt about that," Williams conceded about Rider, whose possible starters tonight are averaging a combined 37 points a game. "But up there, in a tournament game, where they have nothing to lose, they could be difficult. The one thing about our team, we usually play according to the level of our opposition. We've done okay so far doing that, but I don't want it to catch up with us.

"We just need to keep up our defensive pressure. Usually what happens is we wear a team down. They break down at one point and we take advantage of it and put a run together."

American broke away from Rider in the December meeting with a 16-1 spurt in the second half. Nickens scored 31 that night, making 15 of 17 shots. Ed Sloane had 16 points and 11 rebounds.

An Eagle victory would put them into Friday's semifinals in Philadelphia's Palestra against the winner of tonight's Temple-Drexel game. Temple, which beat AU Friday and had the best record in the conference during the regular season, is favored, although Drexel has a 17-10 record.