- Troy Brewer looks for an opening in the first half of Sunday night's game. (Photo: TBD Staff)
Jim Mower's three-pointer with 0.5 seconds left in the second overtime period propelled the Lafayette College Leopards over the American University Eagles 73-71 in the semifinals of the Patriot League Tournament Sunday evening at Bender Arena in Northwest Washington.
The defeat dealt a fatal blow to American's chances to make the NCAA Tournament, which would have required the Eagles winning the tournament's championship game. That game will be contested Friday afternoon. American finished their season with an overall record of 22-9 and a 12-4 record in all Patriot League games (11-3 in the regular season, 1-1 in the conference tournament).
Mower's heroics were but the thrilling climax to a game that saw fourteen ties, seven lead changes, and multiple momentum swings as neither side proved able to get a grip on proceedings. American had led by six points, 70-64, with just over three minutes remaining in the second overtime, but Lafayette rattled off six points in a row and tied the game 70-70 on two Jared Mintz free throws with 1:37 remaining. American's Stephen Lumpkins could only manage to make one of two free throws with 1:10 remaining to give the Eagles a 71-70 lead, but most of the 2,013 fans at Bender thought that American had the game won when Tony Johnson was called for traveling with 41.7 seconds to go. The Eagles had a chance to wrap up the game on the ensuring possession, but Vlad Moldoveanu missed a three with 6.7 seconds to go, setting up Mower to win the game for Lafayette.
"We have a play that calls for a high-ball screen," said Lafayette coach Fran O'Hanlon of the last play. "Nick Hendra left [Mower] and went to [Johnson] because he thought Tony was going to spot up, but Tony hit Jim in stride, and he made a big shot."
The Leopards had led for most of the second half of regulation and appeared to be in good shape after Ben Wheeler's three-pointer gave the visitors a 48-43 lead with 7:10 to go. But American scored nine of the next 11 points, and took a 52-50 lead on Lumpkins' left-handed hook shot with 1:05 to go in regulation. Lafayette's Jared Mintz missed an attempt from close range with 28.1 seconds to go, but Lumpkins could only make the front end of a one-and-one after he was fouled in the rebounding action. Down 53-50, Johnson found Ryan Willen for a game-tying three-pointer from the top of of the key with 16 seconds to go. American had a chance to win the game at the regulation buzzer, but Troy Brewer saw his long three-pointer from well beyond the top of the key spin out.
In the first overtime period, American took a 62-61 lead with 45 seconds remaining on two Brewer free throws. But Mower was able to knock down one of two foul shots with 11.9 seconds remaining to tie the game at 62-62. American had one final chance to win the game in the first overtime period, but Daniel Munoz's running jumper along the baseline clanged harmlessly off the rim.
It was the second time in eight days that American and Lafayette had played multiple overtimes. On February 26, the Eagles got the better of the Leopards 95-92 in double overtime in Easton, Pa. "I think after that game, we understood that we could play with [American]," O'Hanlon said. "The difference was getting off to a good start. We didn't do that well offensively, but we did do well defensively.
"The first time we played [a 73-60 win for American back on January 29 at Bender], we started in a zone, and they shot us right out of the zone," O'Hanlon continued. "Then in the second game we played basically all man-to-man. I think tonight, we played about 98% man-to-man." Lafayette's defense was particularly effective in the second half, when AU shot just 10-for-31 from the field (32.3%), and on the perimeter, as the Eagles shot just 3-for-16 (18.8%) from beyond the arc for the whole game.
But the Eagles really struggled to get going right from the start of the game. They only held the lead on two occasions in the first half: first, after a Moldoveanu layup put them up 2-0, and again after two foul shots from the Romanian gave them a 16-14 lead. Lafayette tied the game soon after on a layup by Mintz, and American didn't lead again until Lumpkins' late heroics.
"I didn't think we played well," said American coach Jeff Jones after the game. "But we played awfully hard. We were going a little too fast on offense. I think we did a very good job on defense, but when there was a crack, they made us pay."
It was a disappointing end to Moldoveanu's home career at AU, as he scored 25 points and became the 28th AU player to reach the 1,000 career point plateau. But he also finished the night 8-for-23 from the field, including just 1-for-6 from behind the arc. Both Moldoveanu and his teammate, fellow senior Nick Hendra, adressed the media after the game, and both struggled to hold back tears as they left the press area.