The American University men's basketball team equaled its longest losing streak since 1969 with its seventh consecutive defeat last night, but not for a lack of trying.
The Eagles, whose last six losses were by an average of 15 points, put together one of their most inspired efforts this season, only to lose to East Carolina, 65-63, in a Colonial Athletic Association game before 525 at Fort Myer.
American, which lost five straight earlier this season, fell to 7-12 overall and 1-7 in the CAA. East Carolina, one of the hottest teams in the conference following its victories over George Mason and James Madison last week, is 10-9 overall, 5-3 in the CAA.
After leading by as many as 14 early in the first half, American appeared headed for another lackluster loss when its lead dissolved into a 62-55 deficit with 1:55 to play. But the Eagles ran off six of the next seven points, including four by reserve forward Pat Witting, to pull within 63-61 with 36 seconds left.
Forced to foul, American sent East Carolina guard Jeff Kelly to the line for a one-and-one. He obligingly missed the first shot, giving AU plenty of time to tie. But Mike Sampson's hurried, twisting drive into the crowded lane clanged off the rim.
East Carolina forward Curt Vanderhorst was fouled on the rebound, and his two free throws with 10 seconds to play rendered Witting's jumper eight seconds later a moot two points.
Chuck West led the Eagles with 23 points before fouling out in the final minute, going 10 for 21 from the field. American made just 43 percent of its field goal attempts and appeared rattled by the game's physical nature.
Guard Frank Ross, the CAA's leading scorer at 23 points per game, finished with 14 points, four in the second half.
"The shots I normally take just wouldn't fall tonight," said Ross.
"They did a good job of identifying Frank," said AU Coach Ed Tapscott. "But we have to find a way to get him his shots . . . We need to start clicking on all five cylinders. We are a guard-dominated team. We need to get something going inside."
Aside from West, American's five other inside players accounted for a total of nine points, 13 rebounds and 16 personal fouls. East Carolina attempted 39 free throws to American's 20, making 29.
Marchell Henry, who scored 28 points in the Pirates' 70-62 victory over American earlier this season, again was their main offensive threat, scoring 23 points.
American had taken a 22-8 lead on West's layup with 9:22 to play in the first half. But a routine rebound with 8:37 to play emptied both benches and nearly brought the teams to blows. The scuffle, which began when AU forward Longmire Harrison and East Carolina center Leon Bass got tangled up under East Carolina's basket, appeared to knock AU out of its rhythm.
The Eagles missed their next four shots and made only two more the entire half, the last a jumper by Ross with 5:04 left.