March 13, 2009
Washington, D.C. - The American Eagles used strong defense and timely offense to reach the top of the Patriot League in 2009, and came out with the same formula in the biggest game of the year to knock off Holy Cross, 73-57, and claim their second consecutive Patriot League Men's Basketball Championship on Friday at Bender Arena.
The Eagles advance to the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament for the second year in a row. They will learn their first-round opponent and destination when the brackets are announced on Sunday at 6 p.m. on CBS and CBSSports.com.
American pulled away at the end of the first half and beginning of the second half, building a 20-point lead and carrying a double-digit advantage the rest of the way. The Eagles got 24 points from Patriot League Tournament Most Valuable Player Garrison Carr, who became the second player in League history to claim the award for two consecutive seasons.
"It's a different feeling from last year," said American Head Coach Jeff Jones. "It's hard to compare this year's Championship to last year. There was a lot more pressure last year."
Carr made 9-of-12 shots from the field, and 6-of-8 from three-point range. He finished with a Tournament record-tying 13 three-point field goals and also set a Tournament mark with 28 three-point attempts.
"It's been a good year for Garrison in a lot of ways, but it's been a tough year in a lot of ways," Jones said. "He had probably his best practice all season this week. I'm not surprised that he came out and responded the way he did."
The Eagles limited Holy Cross to 32.2 percent shooting from the floor, allowing the Crusaders to shoot just 4-for-22 in the first half. The Crusaders were just 5-of-16 from three-point range. American forced 15 Holy Cross turnovers.
American also shot over 50 percent in the contest, and scored 45 second-half points behind a 12-for-17 shooting effort after the break. American connected on 8-of-17 three-point shots, with Carr leading the way in that category.
"I thought there were two good defensive teams out there tonight," Jones said. "As good as we played on defense, they matched it."
Defense ruled early in the first half, as the lead changed hands five times as the Crusaders opened a slim 9-8 advantage at the second media timeout.
American put up the game's first significant run after that point, scoring nine straight points for a 17-9 lead. Carr tallied five points in the stretch, with a jumper with 10:12 to go followed by a three-pointer with 9:28 left. Brian Gilmore punctuated the run with a one-handed dunk with 7:16 to go, but was called for a technical on the way down the floor to allow the Crusaders to end the 9-0 surge with a pair of free throws.
Holy Cross got the deficit to 17-13 on its ensuing possession, but a three-pointer by Nick Hendra with 6:36 left in the first half pushed the American lead back to seven. After a Holy Cross free throw, another Carr three-pointer gave the Eagles a 23-14 lead with 5:55 left. A pair of foul shots by Hendra pushed the advantage to 25-14 with 4:55 to go, and capped the 17-5 surge. American answered four straight Holy Cross points with a Bryce Simon three-pointer for a 28-18 lead at the break.
American made everything difficult for Holy Cross on the offensive end in the first half, limiting the Crusaders to 18 points by forcing turnovers and tough shots. Holy Cross shot just 4-for-22 (18.5 percent) in the first half, and was just 1-of-6 from three-point land.
American came out on fire to extend the lead quickly in the second half. The Eagles opened with a 7-2 run to force a Holy Cross timeout when Carr drained another three to make it 35-20 with 17:58 left in the game.
Carr remained hot in the next two minutes, nailing back-to-back threes to push the American lead to 43-25 with 15:41 to go in the contest.
American scored the next two points to raise the lead to 20, but Holy Cross began to chip away. Pat Doherty nailed a three to cut the Eagle advantage to 45-32 with 12:30 remaining in the contest, and a layup by R.J. Evans capped a 9-1 run and cut the deficit down to 46-34 with 11:39 to go.
The Eagles bounced back to increase the lead to 17. After taking a 50-36 advantage, Gilmore converted a three-point play with 9:59 left to give American a 53-36 lead.
Holy Cross scored the next six points to get as close as it had been since the opening of the second half, with a pair of Andrew Beinert foul shots making it 53-42 with 8:20 left. The Eagles again answered, with Carr nailing yet another three to push the advantage to 57-43 and force a Holy Cross timeout with 5:37 to go.
Doherty answered with a three to get it back to an 11-point game, but the Eagles pushed the lead to 16 on back-to-back layups by Derrick Mercer to make it 62-46 with 3:45 to go. The Eagles held a double-digit lead the rest of the way to go on to the 73-57 victory and claim their second straight Patriot League Championship.
Gilmore and Mercer joined Carr in double figures scoring. Gilmore tallied 18 points on 5-of-7 shooting, while Mercer, the Patriot League Player of the Year, had 13 points and a team-high five assists.
Holy Cross had three players score in double figures, with Eric Meister tallying a double-double of 12 points and 12 rebounds. R.J. Evans led the way in scoring with 16 points, while Pat Doherty tallied 13. The Crusaders held a 39-33 advantage on the boards.
Gilmore, Mercer, Evans and Meister all made the Patriot League All-Tournament team, where they were joined by Army's Cleveland Richard. Gilmore earned All-Tournament honors for the second year in a row.
"In the Tournament, I think Brian (Gilmore) has given us some energy," Jones said. "He's one guy who can give us a spark because he gets out and runs."
The Eagles played as a No. 15 seed in last year's NCAA Tournament, as they fell to No. 2 Tennessee, 72-57, in a first-round contest in Birmingham, Alabama. American trailed by just one point with six minutes remaining in that game.
Patriot League Tournament MVP
Garrison Carr, American
Patriot League All-Tournament Team
Cleveland Richard, Army
R.J. Evans, Holy Cross
Eric Meister, Holy Cross
Brian Gilmore, American
Derrick Mercer, American
Patriot League Championship Notes:
The Eagles became the seventh repeat champion in Patriot League history, and the seventh program to win at least two titles.
They tie Bucknell, Colgate, Lafayette and Fordham for third all-time with two Championships.
The last Patriot League champion to repeat was Bucknell in 2005 and 2006.
American is the fourth consecutive No. 1 seed to win the Patriot League title, and 15th in the 19 Patriot League Tournaments. The No. 1 seed has advanced to the title game every time.
No. 1 seeds are 13-3 on their home court in the League title game.
The home team is 14-2 in the last 16 Patriot League Championship games, and 14-4 overall in the title game.
The Eagles were playing in their fifth Patriot League Championship in their eight seasons in the League, and improved to 2-3 in the title matchup.
The Eagles and Crusaders have faced off for the Championship three times, the second-most played matchup in the title game. American got its first victory in the Championship against Holy Cross after losing to the Crusaders in 2002 and 2003.
American improved to 7-1 in the Patriot League Tournament at Bender Arena, with seven consecutive wins at the venue. The only loss came to Holy Cross in the 2002 title game.
American won its 13th consecutive game, trailing only Memphis for the longest win streak in the country.
The Eagles have won 12 straight home games, and 17 in a row at Bender Arena against Patriot League competition.
American Head Coach Jeff Jones improved to 15-6 in the Patriot League Tournament, trailing only Holy Cross Head Coach Ralph Willard (17-6) for the best winning percentage in the event.
Bucknell's Charles Lee (2005 and 2006) was the only other player to capture two Patriot League Tournament MVP honors.
Holy Cross was playing in its League record 10th Championship game, and fell to 5-5 in title contests.