ark Nickens made an 18-foot jumper with three seconds remaining in overtime tonight to lead American over Bucknell, 51-49, in an East Coast Conference tournament semifinal game at Kirby Fieldhouse.
Their seventh straight victory puts the Eagles (20-9) into the championship game Saturday at 8 against LaSalle, which beat Rider, 68-57, behind guard Steve Black's 18 points.
Bucknell (17-11) held the ball for more than a minute after winning the overtime tip, but guard Jaye Andrews, who led the underdog Bison with 18 points on nine-for-17 shooting, missed a jump shot. American's Juan Jones (13 points) was fouled on the rebound, but missed the one-and-one. Cal Puriefoy made a 15-footer to give Bucknell a 47-45 lead, its first since halftime.
After two free throws by Jones tied the game at 47 with 1:37 remaining, Andre Adams stole Andrews' pass and drove the length of the floor for a dunk. Andrews, a sophomore from Landon School, followed with an eight-footer to tie the score at 49. American called time with 15 seconds left to set up the last shot.
"The offense was designed to get the ball to the wing after Gordon (Austin) penetrated," said Nickens, who led American with 16 points. "If I wasn't open, the ball was supposed to go inside to Juan or Andre.
"The plan was to take the first good shot and then hit the boards. When the ball hit my hands, I smiled inside. I like pressure and I like shooting. It made all the extra shooting practice worth it. This is right up there with the Georgetown victory."
Coach Ed Tapscott, who was upset with his senior-laden team a month ago, smiled tonight and said, "We had designs on this from the beginning, but it was difficult to keep our sights set on reaching the final during our slump. The seniors had too much pride in themselves as a team not to have a good season."
Neither team played a good first half despite shooting 50 percent from the field against tough zone defenses. Neither team could manage more than a four-point edge.
Bucknell led, 35-33, with 15:40 to play, before baskets by Austin, Adams and Nickens gave AU a 39-35 advantage. After Bucknell tied it at 39, the teams each scored until Adams' tip-in and Nickens' corner jumper put the Eagles ahead, 45-41, with 6:20 left. Andrews made another jumper 10 seconds later to cut the deficit to two.
The Eagles held the ball for 3 1/2 minutes before Bucknell, with four fouls to give, began fouling. Before the one-and-ones began, Nickens was called for a five-second violation, turning over the ball with 1:30 left.
"We held the ball because we weren't hitting and they were in that zone which cut off the passing lanes and made it difficult for us to get good shots," Tapscott said. "It almost worked. It was a strange five-second call."
After two timeouts, Bucknell couldn't get the ball inbounds within five seconds and American took over. But Ferdie Aunon, the team's best free throw shooter at 79 percent, missed the one-and-one. This time, Bucknell capitalized as Eric Hegedus, with only six points, made a 15-footer with six seconds left. Austin's desperation miss forced the overtime.
"Bucknell did a nice job of beating our press and then taking their time on offense," Tapscott said. "I wish we had Andrews on our side. They have guts, but as I told the team . . . we're tournament tough."