HARRISONBURG, VA., FEB. 27 -- American University was unable to overcome a horrible first half, the benching of two of its starters and an off night by leading scorer Mike Sampson, falling to CAA host James Madison, 63-55, tonight at the JMU Convocation Center.
The loss, which broke American's seven-game win streak, combined with William and Mary's loss at Richmond, means the Eagles will face the Tribe in the first round of the CAA Tournament in Hampton, Va., which begins Saturday. The Dukes will face George Mason. AU can finish no worse than tied for second with a 9-5 record, its best conference record ever.
Despite the fact that the Eagles were able to rally from a 16-point halftime deficit to move ahead, 48-47, with 4:47 left on a pair of Clarence Ingram free throws, it was the Dukes who came through down the stretch.
After Ingram's free throws, consecutive three-point plays by guard Benny Gordon and forward Kennard Winchester (a game-high 22 points) put the Dukes back up by five with 3:17 to play.
The Eagles (14-13) pulled within one again with 1:04 on an Andy Bon Salle follow of a missed shot, but Winchester and forward Alan Dorsey hit clutch free throws down the stretch to clinch the win.
But the fact that American was even in the game was amazing considering the first half. The Eagles shot six for 26 (23.1 percent) from the floor and five of 11 (45.5 percent) from the line in the half, falling behind, 34-18.
American was also affected by the benching of two starters, guard Brock Wortman and center Ron Davenport, who broke a team rule. The pair were late to yesterday's team breakfast.
"I could have used them, no doubt," AU Coach Ed Tapscott said. "But I did not think about bringing them in."
The Eagles may have been able to withstand the loss of Wortman if Sampson had been hot, but he wasn't, scoring only four points on two of 10 shooting.
The Eagles came out in the second half and scored the first eight points to pull within eight, but the Dukes rallied to move ahead, 41-29, on an Alex Clevinger layup with 15:07 left. The Dukes (10-17, 5-9) kept their lead in the 10-point range until midway through the half, when the Eagles held the Dukes scoreless for almost six minutes. Ingram's free throws finished the 11-0 run and gave the Eagles their only lead.
On the ensuing possession, Gordon's three-pointer gave the Dukes the lead for good.
The Dukes moved ahead, 11-1, with 14:47 left, the Eagles ran off five straight to pull within five. But the Dukes went on a 13-4 run to move up, 24-10.
Dale Spears, who led the Eagles with 13 points, scored the game's next five points to pull the Eagles within nine, but the Dukes took control and went on a 10-3 run for their 16-point halftime edge.