American's lost defense returned somewhat last night as the struggling Eagles used a tight zone to stymie Delaware in the second half and come away with a 68-56 decision in an East Coast Conference game at Fort Myer.
AU, 8-6 overall and 1-2 in the conference, came into the game having lost five of eight games since upsetting Georgetown. But the Eagles turned in one of their best defensive efforts since that game, forcing the Blue Hens (7-5, 0-3) to abandon their inside game in favor of perimeter shooting.
The 18- 20-footers didn't fall fast enough as Delaware fell behind early in the first half and never recovered. Eddie Sloane scored nine of his game-high 21 points in the first half and Juan Jones and Mark Nickens added six points each to help the Eagles to a 33-26 lead at intermission.
AU's sagging 1-2-2 zone cut off Delaware's 6-foot-10 center Tim Carr from posting up inside and the center had to go outside to look for his shots. Carr made eight of nine attempts from the floor to finish with 19 points, 11 of them coming into the second half as he tried to whittle down the AU lead.
"We went back to what we do best--play a 1-2-2 zone," said Jones, whose 10 rebounds helped the Eagles gain a 25-19 edge on the boards. "We didn't play great but decent. We needed a game to pick our confidence up. Our defense was much better than it has been lately."
Relying strictly on the outside shooting of Carr and Tim Tompkins (14), the Blue Hens closed to within five points, 35-30, early in the second half. But Ferdie Aunon hit a short jumper on the base line, Jones scored two quick baskets, Sloane made a pair of free throws and Andre Adams score both of his baskets during a six-minute span as the Eagles moved back into a 10-point lead, 49-39, with just over eight minutes remaining.
The Blue Hens, who haven't beaten AU since 1975, closed to within six points after Tompkins sank his third consecutive outside shot. AU's defense then forced three turnovers and Sloane scored six straight points.
"I thought we executed pretty well, at least it was a better effort than we've had lately," said AU Coach Ed Tapscott. "They were hitting their outside shots over our 1-3-1 so we switched to a 1-2-2. I didn't consider a man to man defense because we've lost five games playing it. Our zone worked well in the second half. It made them work."
The Eagles were much quicker than Delaware and got inside for easy shots. As a result, AU made 22 of 26 free throws. Delaware made eight of its nine free throws.