With few alternatives remaining in a season that had been getting grimmer by the game, American University basketball Coach Ed Tapscott turned floor control of his team over to freshman Mike Sampson last night at Fort Myer, and Sampson proved worthy of the challenge.
The 5-foot-10 point guard from Carroll High School scored eight of his 16 points in the final 3:44 as he rallied the Eagles from a nine-point second-half deficit to a 64-62 victory over William and Mary. Sampson, who made all six of his free throws down the stretch, also had 13 assists and directed the Eagles to a season-low seven turnovers.
The victory was the first in the league for American since it joined the ECAC South this season. The Eagles, playing for the fourth straight game without leading scorer Frank Ross, are 6-12 overall, 1-5 in the league. They have defeated the Indians seven straight times.
William and Mary, which fell to 8-7 overall, 3-3 in the league, outrebounded the Eagles, 32-22, but in the second half, the Indians' leading scorer, guard Keith Cieplicki, had only two shots from the field. He finished with 13 points, five below his average.
Sampson, American's smallest player, made the biggest contributions as the Eagles won back-to-back games for the first time this year.
With Ross and his 16.7 scoring average on crutches because of a thigh bruise, Tapscott turned to Sampson for leadership.
"I told him before the game that it was going to be his game," said Tapscott. "All the guys were going to let him run the show. When he plays aggressive, it makes everyone else aggressive. Tonight, we played hard, aggressively and fairly intelligently."
Sampson's two free throws with 2:23 remaining gave American a 59-58 lead. Sampson extended the lead to 61-58 when he drove the lane and shot over 6-1 Scott Coval.
William and Mary's Tony Traver scored with 56 seconds left, cutting the lead to 61-60, but Sampson was fouled going for a defensive rebound. He made both free throws to increase American's advantage to 63-60 with 13 seconds to go.
"I felt pretty proud when the coach talked to me before the game," said Sampson, who landed on his hip after crashing into 6-8 Matt Brooks in the final four minutes, but refused to come out. "Since Frank is out, someone has to pick up the slack. On that one basket (over Coval), I wanted it. I saw the clock running down and I knew we needed it. I felt it was a big play in the game."
William and Mary led, 50-41, after Kevin Richardson (14 points) scored with 12:24 remaining. In the next four minutes, American forced four turnovers and tied the game at 53 when Eric White (12 points) scored on a driving layup with 7:04 to go.
Steve Nesmith, who finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds, provided enough muscle off the boards to allow American to stay close.
"I think we just flat out stopped playing," said a distressed William and Mary Coach Bruce Parkhill. "We just lost our composure out there."