The American University men's basketball team has never had a problem in the Patriot League quarterfinals. It's the rest of the tournament that has left the Eagles disappointed year after year.
American took care of business in the opening round for the sixth consecutive year last night, pulling away in the second half to eliminate cold-shooting Colgate, 59-44, before 924 at Bender Arena and earn a trip to top-seeded Holy Cross for a semifinal game Sunday.
"It's going to be a difficult task," AU Coach Jeff Jones said. "I think that our guys understand that we're not going up there to be sacrificial lambs, but we've got our work cut out for us."
During the regular season, the fourth-seeded Eagles (16-13) lost in overtime to the Crusaders (23-8) at home and dropped an 11-point decision in Worcester, Mass. Since joining the league in 2001, AU has advanced to the semifinals every year and reached the championship game three times, but has never won the title.
"I didn't expect anything less," senior guard Andre Ingram said of the Holy Cross matchup. "It definitely helps us, knowing we can play with those guys. The bad thing we have to watch out for is that we can't allow ourselves, in the midst of a close game, be thinking, 'All right, we've been in this position before; we know how it turns out.' "
The Eagles have built a bit of momentum this season, having won five in a row after a midseason skid. Last night's victory was their ninth in the past 10 games against the fifth-seeded Raiders (10-19), including three wins this year, and improved their record at Bender against Colgate to 7-0.
Ingram and Arvydas Eitutavicius scored 16 and 15 points, respectively, and Paulius Joneliunas added 12 for the Eagles, who turned a four-point halftime lead into a double-digit advantage for most of the second half.
Kendall Chones had 12 points for Colgate, which made just 6 of 24 field goal attempts after the break and shot 30 percent overall. AU had a 41-23 rebounding advantage, keyed by reserve forward Travis Lay's 13.
Neither team played particularly well in the first half or for the first few minutes of the second, but the Eagles began to take control with their defensive work and resurgent offense. While the Raiders missed their first eight shots of the half, AU scored six straight points to take a 10-point lead. It maintained its momentum for several minutes and during one stretch scored on seven consecutive possessions.
Colgate did pull within eight, but went nearly nine minutes without a field goal and relied solely on free throws until the final moments when the outcome had already been decided.
"It was a grind-it-out game," Jones said. "For us or for them, it wasn't a pretty offensive game . . . but we got enough separation that, as we long as we continued playing good at the defensive end, we kept a pretty comfortable margin."
· BUCKNELL 62, NAVY 43:Donald Brown scored a 15 points in his return from a hand injury to lead the Bison at home.
Brown had missed seven games after breaking his right hand on Jan. 30 against Colgate. He returned for the Bison at 16:54 of the first half and received a standing ovation. He added nine rebounds in 27 minutes.
Bucknell (21-8) will host Army in a semifinal game on Sunday. Army advanced with a 47-46 win over Lehigh.
Kaleo Kina scored 12 points to lead Navy (14-16).
Both teams struggled with their shooting early, with each going more than five minutes in the first half without a point.