American University Coach Art Perry wasn't ecstatic about his offense's performance yesterday. But the defense delighted Perry and the crowd of 2,382 at Bender Arena, forcing 25 turnovers and helping the Eagles pull out a 79-72 victory over Wagner.
Hasheem Alexander scored 21 points for American, including two free throws and a dunk in the final 22 seconds, but the Eagles needed their tough defense to hold off a late rally.
"Our defense is why we're 4-1," Perry said. "We've made some great defensive plays. That's our forte."
The 4-1 start is American's best since 1989-90, when the Eagles opened 6-1 en route to a 20-9 season. The offense has struggled at times in each game this season, but the defense has been a constant. The Eagles have outrebounded all five opponents--including 35-32 against Wagner--and forced at least 20 turnovers four times.
American played man-to-man defense for much of the game, using its speed and size advantages to cause problems for Wagner (2-1). The Seahawks had some success scoring inside, but they made only five baskets in the final 10 minutes and turned the ball over several times.
Guard Jarion Childs (10 points) ranks among the top five in the country in steals and made seven steals for the second straight game. Forward Patrick Doctor had 14 points and 10 rebounds, including some key grabs defensively in the second half.
"There's no question about it: A majority of our [success] is going to be [at] the defensive end of the floor," Perry said.
Childs and Alexander sparked the offense, each getting six assists. Reserve Ronald Hearns scored a season-high 12 points, hitting several outside shots.
The Eagles took a 47-38 halftime lead, but they couldn't pull away because Wagner played a tenacious zone defense in the second half. Forward Jermaine Hall made 12 of 15 shots for 24 points, and guard Hassan Wilkerson (16 points) helped Wagner stay close.
Trailing 75-72, the Seahawks missed a chance to tie when Wilkerson misfired on an open three-point attempt with 26 seconds left. Alexander was fouled and made two free throws four seconds later. Wilkerson then missed the ensuing shot. Childs got the rebound and fed Alexander, who dunked with four seconds left.
"I couldn't be more proud of the way we played in the second half; we just didn't quit," said Wagner Coach Dereck Whittenburg, a former star at DeMatha and at North Carolina State.
ST. JOHN'S 85, VIRGINIA 63: Erick Barkley scored a career-high 27 points to lead the Red Storm (4-1) at Madison Square Garden.
Chris Williams led the Cavaliers (4-3) with 20 points.
"I'm not disappointed with losing because they're a good team, but I am disappointed with not competing--we even seemed a little afraid," Virginia Coach Pete Gillen said.
VA. TECH 60, UNC CHARLOTTE 52: Rolan Roberts scored 25 points and Dennis Mims added 17 points and 11 rebounds for the Hokies (3-1) in Blacksburg, Va.
Roberts (Potomac, Va.) went 10 for 14 for the Hokies, who held the visitors to 30 percent shooting in the first half. Dalonte Hill led UNC Charlotte (3-2) with 18 points.
NAVY 85, HARVARD 83: Chris Williams's eight-foot jumper with four seconds remaining gave visiting Navy the victory. Sitapha Savane of Navy (4-3) led all scorers with 26 points. Harvard is 3-2.
GEORGE MASON 72, COASTAL CAROLINA 66: In Conway, S.C., George Mason made six free throws in the final 49 seconds to fend off a late rally by Coastal Carolina (1-4). The Patriots (2-2) got 24 points and 13 rebounds from junior forward George Evans.
LOYOLA (ILL.) 77, HOWARD 53: In East Lansing, Mich., Silvijie Turkovic scored 14 points and pulled down 10 rebounds as Loyola (4-2) cruised in the consolation game of the Spartan Classic. Bryan Alvin and Antonio Michell each scored 12 points for Howard (0-4).