American University settled into its new on-campus Bender Arena last night, but had to wait until James Madison's Ken Halleck missed a last-second shot before celebrating a 56-55 triumph before 4,600.

The festive crowd in the 5,000-seat facility nearly cost American the game. Twice, American was called for technical fouls after fans threw objects out onto the court. Madison made the resulting free throws.

"It's a new experience for students," American Coach Ed Tapscott said. "Technical fouls are not something, obviously, that we want. But I really enjoyed that kind of support. It was a lot of fun."

In the first game at American in 30 years, the Eagles had to hold off the Dukes' Kennard Winchester, who scored a game-high 16 points, 11 in the second half. It was Winchester's reverse layin with 1:28 to go that tied the game at 55.

The Eagles (7-9, 3-2 in the Colonial Athletic Association) got the ball inside to Mike Sumner, who made one of two free throws with 1:12 to play.

Madison's Benny Gordon then drove the lane, but his shot was blocked by Daryl Holmes. The Eagles tried to work for a good shot, but Eric White was forced to take an off-balance effort down low. He missed, and Madison got the rebound and called time with six seconds to play.

Madison tried an alley-oop pass to Winchester, but Sumner was able to knock the ball out of bounds. With four seconds left, Gordon got the inbounds pass and handed it to Halleck in the right corner.

Halleck, who had inbounded the ball, was the responsibility of American's Tom Scherer. But Scherer lost him.

"They got it in to Gordon," Scherer said. "Mike {Sampson} was on him. I thought he was going to shoot. But he turned and got it to Halleck. Time stood still. I kind of flew at him, but I didn't alter his shot. If it had gone in, I wouldn't be talking to you right now."

Halleck's shot bounced off the rim, and a tipin by Winchester came a half-second after the final buzzer.

"All Winchester had to do was catch the ball," James Madison Coach John Thurston said, "and the game is over . . . you don't get that tip on the road."

"We had to make it exciting for the home folks," Tapscott said. "On that last play, we were more lucky than good. I saw the light go off when the ball hit the rim. The official could have called it either way."

American led by a small margin throughout the game, and took a six-point lead at 51-45 with under six minutes to play on a layin by guard Sampson (team-high 14 points). But the Dukes tied the game on three-pointers from Hallack and Gordon, the last by Gordon from the top of the key with four minutes left.

American's Andy Bon Salle (eight points), who has been in the Eagles' lineup more in recent weeks after recovering from an injury, hit a 13-footer on the right side to give American a two-point lead. Madison's Thom Brand then got the ball in the low post and hit a turnaround with 2:20 left to tie the game again.

Bon Salle then made two free throws for American with 1:52 left, after Madison called time. The Eagles converted six of eight free throws in the second half, after sinking just nine of 25 in an overtime win over East Carolina Monday.

"I was glad they called a timeout," Bon Salle said, "because I was sucking wind out there. It gave me a chance to cool off."

Winchester then hit his shot with 1:28 to play.

The crowd first got into the game after Sampson made American's first basket, a three-pointer from the top of the key, to give the Eagles an early lead. Rolls of paper flew out onto the court, causing a short delay.

American played well early, taking a 16-9 lead on a layin by Holmes. After Winchester turned the ball over, Dale Spears scored on a layin to give the Eagles a nine-point lead.

But the Dukes were able to pound the ball in the low post seemingly at will. Anthony Colley scored on a reverse layin to cut American's lead to 23-17. After Sampson hit a three-pointer, Madison went on an 11-1 run. Brand scored from 10 feet, then Ralph Glenn hit on a three-point play for a 28-22 score with 3:47 left in the half.

Brand made two free throws, and the American crowd was then hit with its first technical for throwing. Winchester put in the free throw. The Dukes finally took the lead late in the half when Glenn hit from the left base line. But Spears sank a jumper at the buzzer to give American a 30-29 edge at the half.

The second technical came with 16:15 to play.

"I think the kids were great," American Athletic Director Joe O'Donnell said. "The fans were super. We just have to educate a couple of people, that's all."

UNC-Wilmington 76, Wm. & Mary 67:

Willie Williams scored 23 points and Antonio Howard 18 to lead the Seahawks to a CAA victory over the cold-shooting Indians in Williamsburg.

The Seahawks (9-6, 4-1) took the lead for good at 47-46 on a three-pointer by Scott Tierney with 14:43 left. Their biggest lead was the final margin.

The Indians (5-11, 2-3) led by six in the first half and took a 37-36 intermission lead on a free throw by Mark Batzel with 22 seconds left.

North Carolina-Wilmington held the Indians to 35 percent on 23-of-58 shooting.

Tim Trout led William and Mary with 20 points and 12 rebounds.

Richmond 84, East Carolina 79:

Peter Woolfolk led a balanced offense with 18 points as Richmond won a CAA game at home.

Richmond (13-3, 4-1) never trailed and took a 13-3 lead on a three-point goal by Rodney Rice with 14:50 left in the first half.

Gus Hill led East Carolina (6-10, 2-3) with 26 points.