The American University men's basketball team won the 2009 Patriot League Tournament Championship on Friday, punching a ticket to the team's second straight NCAA Tournament. AU defeated Holy Cross by a score of 73-57 in front of a standing-room only crowd of 3,123 fans inside Bender Arena to claim their second PL Tournament title in as many years. The Eagles were led by Tournament MVP Garrison Carr's 24 points. Brian Gilmore and Derrick Mercer were named to the all-tournament team and scored 18 points and 13 points, respectively.
`I think it's always tough to analyze your feelings after a game but I think for me this year its just happiness, enjoying the moment,' Head Coach Jeff Jones said. `There is also a sense of pride especially for our seven seniors and what they have done.'
American and Holy Cross traded the lead six times in the first nine minutes of play before the Eagles fell into a comfortable rhythm and opened a 15-9 lead. Stephen Lumpkins put AU ahead initially, 10-9, with a layup and Carr hit back-to-back jumpers to push the lead to six. American took a 20-13 lead off a Nick Hendra spot-up three and Carr's second trey of the evening put the Eagles ahead by nine, 23-14. AU led by as many as 11, 25-14, following two Hendra free-throws with 4:55 to play.
Holy Cross cut American's lead to seven at the free-throw line, 25-18, but would get no closer in the half. A Bryce Simon three pushed the AU lead back into double-digits, 28-18, where it would remain for the rest of the half.
American held Holy Cross to just 4-of-22 shooting in the first half while forcing eight Crusader turnovers. Carr scored eight points on 2-of-3 shooting from beyond the arc to lead the Eagles at the intermission. Hendra added seven points and four rebounds while Derrick Mercer picked up three assists and three boards.
Brian Gilmore put American on the board first in the second half and following a three by Carr, AU found itself leading by 15, 35-20. Consecutive Carr three's helped extend the advantage to 18, 43-25, and two free-throws by Gilmore put The Eagles on top by 20, 45-25, with 15:12 remaining. The 20-point advantage was the largest that American would enjoy on the evening. Holy Cross refused to lay down, however, and scored the game's next seven points to trim the Eagle lead to 13, 45-32.
The Crusaders then closed to within 12 with 11:39 left in the game, and over the next four minutes the team's traded baskets, keeping the margin between 12 and 17. Holy Cross narrowed the lead to as few as 11 points, 54-43, before Carr's sixth three of the day made the score 57-43 with 5:37 to play. Pat Doherty answered with a three of his own following a Holy Cross timeout but it was as close as the Crusaders would get the rest of the way.
American broke the game back open with back-to-back Mercer layups to push the score to 62-46. Mercer's first basket came off a drive through the heart of the Holy Cross defense and the second off a fast break, putting the capacity crowd inside of Bender on their feet. AU iced the game by hitting 8-of-12 free-throws in the final 2:39 and was immediately engulfed by the crowd as the final buzzer sounded the 73-57 victory.
'Our emotions were very high, we knew that this was something special and everyone was excited,' Mercer remarked. 'We definitely started to feel that high emotion and feel thankful that we were all blessed for this second chance.'
Carr, who was named the PL Tournament MVP, became AU's all-time three-point leader as he scored a game-high 24 points with six three's. Carr ended the evening shooting 9-of-12 from the floor and 6-of-8 from three, bringing his career total to 296 and passing former record holder Nathan Smith's, '98, mark of 293.
`It was great to have this be our last game here at American. Winning a championship is exhilarating and to do it on your home court is very special,' Carr commented. `I think winning this year feels even better. Winning a second time around is harder than winning the first and for us to send seven seniors out with a championship on our home court is the best way to do it.'
Gilmore netted 18 points for the Eagles with seven rebounds and two steals. Gilmore shot 5-of-7 from the floor and was 8-of-12 from the line. Mercer added 13 points with four rebounds and five assists in 40 minutes of play. Both Gilmore and Mercer were named to the All-Tournament Team.
American shot 52.3 percent (23-44) for the game and made 12-of-17 (70.6) shots from the floor in the second half. The AU defense held Holy Cross to just 19-of-59 for the game.
American will now await its NCAA Tournament fate which will be announced this Sunday, March 15, during the NCAA Selection Show on CBS, beginning at 6:00 p.m. AU will hold a free Selection Show Watch Party in the Tavern at the Mary Graydon Center beginning at 5:30 p.m.