American Men 74, Lafayette 55
There were only a couple of impediments for American's players as they went for pregame warmups prior to their 74-55 victory over Lafayette in a Patriot League semifinal last night.
Holy Cross's locker room was next door to American's, and a couple of Crusaders players were making their way back after their semifinal victory over Bucknell. There was almost a collision before the Holy Cross players got out of the way and American took the court.
It seems second-seeded American and top-seeded Holy Cross have been on a collision course all year. They will meet for the third time in the Patriot League title game on Friday at 4 p.m. in Worcester, Mass.
The winner will advance to the NCAA tournament. The host team is 8-1 in the title game dating from 1994; American had the only loss in that span, a 58-54 loss to the Crusaders last year.
American (16-13) has not been to the NCAA tournament. Holy Cross (25-4) defeated Bucknell in the first semifinal, 75-50.
"Getting to the title game was our focus, it has been all year," senior guard Steven Miles said. "We were so close last year, it left a bitter taste in our mouths."
There was little chance the Eagles would not advance after they played a strong first half against sixth-seeded Lafayette (13-16). The Leopards were within 20-16 following a three-pointer by junior Winston Davis with 8 minutes 19 seconds left in the first half.
The Eagles closed the half on a 24-8 run, keyed by four three-pointers from senior Glenn Stokes, and led 44-24 at halftime.
"That spurt in the last six or seven minutes of the first half" was crucial, American Coach Jeff Jones said. "We had a little bit of a working margin, but then we got one or two turnovers and converted some three-point shots. We knew by no means was the game over at halftime, but we knew Lafayette had a really big hole they had to dig out of."
Stokes finished with 26 points and junior Jernavis Draughn added 13. Junior Rob Dill had 16 points and 14 rebounds for the Leopards.
Junior guard Andres Rodriguez and senior Demek Adams (Carroll) guarded Leopards leading scorer Justin DeBerry last night and held him to four points. He missed all four of his shots from the field. DeBerry had scored 29 against the Eagles earlier this year and also had 29 in an 89-75 win over Colgate in the quarterfinals.
That game, however, came back to hurt Lafayette. Because of injuries, Lafayette entered the tournament with eight players who began the season on the varsity; Coach Fran O'Hanlon called up two players from the junior varsity in late February to fill out the roster. All five starters played at least 31 minutes against Colgate.
"When Colgate closed the gap, I think Lafayette gave their guys more minutes than they would have liked," Jones said.
American's only problem heading into Friday may be that Miles will enter the game against Holy Cross in somewhat of a shooting slump. He made 4 of 13 shots last night, and two of the baskets were layups. He was 3 for 13 in a 72-57 win over Navy on Saturday.