James Madison, which led by eight with 36 seconds remaining, needed a turnover by American University with two seconds to go last night to escape with a 70-68 ECAC South victory at Fort Myer.

The Dukes (10-9, 4-3 in the league) have defeated the Eagles in all five of their meetings; they won their third straight, all on the road. The Eagles are 6-13, 1-6.

Madison seemed to have victory secured after former Mount Vernon High School star Eric Brent's two free throws with a minute left and John Newman's two with 43 seconds left made it 70-62.

But American's Pat Witting (10 points in 14 minutes) scored with 35 seconds left, Jim Lutz made two free throws 15 seconds later and, after Mike Sampson's steal, Steve Nesmith's eight-footer with 13 seconds to go pulled the Eagles to 70-68.

The Eagles fouled Newman, who missed the front end of a one-and-one with nine seconds left. Sampson, the smallest player on the floor at 5 feet 9, took the rebound and brought the ball upcourt as American was out of timeouts. But the Eagles failed to shoot as a pass went through the hands of freshman guard Chuck West (12 points).

"Sometimes we make the plays at the right time and sometimes we don't," American Coach Ed Tapscott said. "The problem is that I just have to keep too many freshmen on the floor, and that's what happens. Whether we make good plays or bad plays in situations like that, most of the time it is simply by accident because we have so little experience."

James Madison Coach Lou Campanelli also used a lineup that showed its inexperience. "I didn't panic at the end, but I sure think my team did," he said. "We're young and sometimes foolish -- like we showed -- but I'll take three in a row on the road any time."

Madison, which shot 66 percent, were led by Brent, who made all six of his first-half shots and finished with 16 points, and 6-9 junior Eric Esch.

Esch's playing time continuously diminished since the season started, but he started three days ago against East Carolina and scored a season-high 19 points.

Last night, he had 14 points and 11 rebounds. "I was in kind of a slump," Esch said, "but now that I've gotten my chance again, it shows that confidence can breed success."