Ed Sloane scored a career-high 33 points as the Eagles downed pesky Towson State, 82-76, in an East Coast Conference game last night at Fort Myer.
The Eagles, 1-0 in the conference and 2-0 overall, got 19 first-half points from the 6-foot-3 Sloane, mainly on inside baskets, as they led from the opening tip and took a 37-31 halftime lead. But the Eagles' eight days of inactivity slowly began to catch up with them and the Tigers came steadily back.
Mark Cooley (23 points), Tom Speicher (17) and James Bruce (18) combined for 15 of their team's 17 points over a seven-minute period as Towson State (0-2, 2-3) pulled even, 48-48. Bruce's 20-footer from the top of the key tied the game and, according to Sloane, "opened our eyes."
"We realized we might lose this game so we toughened up on defense," said Sloane, whose previous high was 27 last year against Hofstra. "Our defense wasn't that sharp, but we got a few breaks and and got back in the game."
Before Sloane and his troops reorganized, Cooley and Speicher had shot their team into a 55-50 lead with 11:15 left to play.
While Sloane was on the bench, Mark Nickens (20), who had only three baskets in the first half, found the range and sank three straight baskets, the last one bringing the Eagles within a point, 59-58, with nine minutes left.
Cooley hit another long one-hander from the corner to give Towson State its final lead, 63-62, with less than six minutes left. The rest of the game belonged to the hosts.
Reserve freshman point guard Darnell Swinton, filling in for foul-plagued Gordon Austin, penetrated and threw up a leaning 10-footer in the lane and AU was ahead to stay, 64-63.
The defense that had been missing suddenly reappeared and the Tigers missed three straight layups, including a wide-open shot by Donald Leslie, and committed two turnovers. Sloane scored off a fast break, Nickens hit from the top of the key and Sloane worked his way inside for another layup to put the Eagles up, 70-63, with 3:22 to play.
"We went back to our press, that's our game," said AU Coach Ed Tapscott, who earned his first technical foul as a head coach. "They were getting inside on us and we had to apply some pressure out front. Teams are going try to beat us inside. No one is going to play us a 90-foot game."
The Tigers closed to 74-70 with 1:51 to play but AU put away the game with eight free throws.