Steve Nesmith and Jim Lutz, playing in the final game of their careers at Fort Myer, scored 24 and 16 points, respectively, to lead American University to an 84-81 victory over Monmouth last night.

The Eagles finished the regular season at 9-18 and move on to the ECAC South tournament Thursday against Richmond in Williamsburg.

Monmouth, an unaligned school in its second year of NCAA Division I competition, finished the regular season at 12-15.

Although the Hawks cut the Eagles' lead, which was as large as 18 in the first half, during the final minutes, they never had possession and a chance to tie.

When Derric Thomas, a freshman out of Blair High School, intercepted an inbounds pass and fed Rich Pass, who led Monmouth with 23 points, the lead was two, 77-75, with 1:40 remaining.

But Chuck West (11 points) made a layup and completed a one-and-one to rebuild the lead to 81-75.

Pass pulled the Hawks to within three, 82-79, with 17 seconds remaining. Lutz missed the first shot in a one-and-one, but Thomas was called for traveling. With five seconds remaining, Frank Ross hit a pair of free throws and Greg McLaughlin scored a meaningless basket at the buzzer.

"I felt when we had the lead, we got complacent," said Nesmith, who scored 15 of his points in the first half. "Playing against a team as hungry as Monmouth, you can't be complacent. You have to keep up an animal intensity for 40 minutes."