American University's Gordon Austin continued throwing those no-look passes today. Over and over his assists came; over his shoulder to Ed Sloane or over his head to Mark Nickens or over drooping Fairfield heads deep down court to Fernando Aunon.

Consequently, this game was nearly over by halftime.

American University ran up an 18-point halftime lead, then fought off a six-minute drought midway through the second half to defeat Fairfield (Conn.) University, 84-72, at Byrne Arena in the Meadowlands.

Austin, a senior guard from Linden, N.J., just a quick trip south from here, finished with 20 points and 11 assists. "Twenty-five people were here to see me. Friends, family and stuff," said Austin, named the game's most valuable player.

It was Austin's own stuff--like nine first-half assists--that was mostly responsible for AU raising its record to 16-9 and raising its halftime lead to 45-27.

"When Gordon Austin plays well, the team plays well," said Coach Ed Tapscott.

"I've been here four years," Austin said. "Running the offense is my job. I had 14 assists (against Towson State) last Thursday, you know."

Sloane finished with 19 points, Nickens with 14, Aunon with 13.

Austin merely finished with all the applause. Maybe there is no place like home, after all.

However, when AU stopped running early in the second half, mostly a result of becoming lax and getting harassed by Fairfield's full-court press, Fairfield started closing in.

The Stags outscored American, 17-5, over a six-minute stretch, shortening a 64-43 deficit to 69-60 with 5:48 to play.

"We just hit one of those dead stages," said Tapscott.

Once again, though, Austin returned the Eagles to life. Simply put, he took charge. He scored 10 of American's next 13 points, hitting six of seven free throws while directing a spread offense. American was safe again, leading, 82-66, with 1:18 left.

Midway through the first half came Austin's fifth assist of the game--which forward Nickens turned, from 18 feet, into a 24-11 lead. This gave Austin 196 assists this season, breaking by one the school record he set last year.

The Eagles, who have won three straight, dominated the first half. They beat the lagging Stags (13-14) downcourt, living off a transition game.