Before last night's game, in addition to a locker room prayer, Tufts Coach John White told his team to play with the conviction of Chaminade, the school that has come to epitomize underdog spirit.

If Chaminade could beat Virginia, White said, Division III Tufts could beat American.

Good theory. But AU, with 18 points by senior Ed Sloane, defeated the Jumbos, 76-52, at Fort Myer. It was AU's last tuneup before starting its East Coast Conference season Wednesday at Rider.

AU Coach Ed Tapscott was the captain and starting point guard at Tufts from 1973-75 and scheduled the game as a favor to White, his former teammate.

The Jumbos were good for what had been ailing AU. The Eagles (7-4) had lost three of five games since beating Georgetown on Dec. 15. The press hadn't been working, and the Eagles weren't playing half-court defense especially well.

American started slowly, but senior forward Mark Nickens scored 11 points in the first 15 minutes to help the Eagles to a 31-16 lead. Tufts (6-4) pulled within 43-35, but Juan Jones' soaring jam after a pass from Gordon Austin boosted AU's lead to 49-35 with 11:25 remaining and the outcome was never really in doubt.

AU's defense was good enough to shut down Tufts senior forward Bill Ewing, who averages 13 points and 12 rebounds per game. He made only one field goal the first half. Ewing, from Cambridge, Mass., was a member of the Rindge & Latin High School team that went 26-0 with Patrick Ewing at center.

"Little Wing" lived two doors from Patrick Ewing, but the two are not related.

A couple of Patrick Ewings would have helped the visitors last night. The Jumbos have one good inside man in 6-7 center Troy Cooper (22 points, eight rebounds per game), but he was kept busy all night by post men Jones, Andre Adams and Ferdie Aunon and guard Sloane.