Conference play has always been much more exciting for me than non-conference games. It always seems to me like the games mean so much more when January rolls around and, consequently, are much more competitive. Nowhere is this truer than in the Patriot League, where conference tournament games are played on campus sites. Since the higher seeds host games come March, the teams are basically playing for the right to have games in their own gym. Therefore, a loss in January could be the difference between hosting the championship and playing on the road, which could potentially cost you an NCAA Tournament Bid. Furthermore, this presents the need to defend your own court, as it is much harder to win on the road than at home.
Today, I headed to American University to see the Eagles take on Holy Cross. I have been to Bender Arena on several occasions, usually visiting friends who were at the time attending AU. My most recent visit was during the 2009 Patriot League Tournament Semi-Finals, during which top-seeded American squeaked by Army en route to their second straight Patriot League Tournament Championship. Today's game featured a much different AU team, which entered the game with a 1-1 record in league play. The visiting Crusaders entered the game with a 2-0 record in Patriot League play, including a victory last weekend over Lehigh, who bounced back from that loss to beat the Eagles on Wednesday night. Despite the loss on Wednesday, the Eagles have done a great job of defending their own gym, as they have yet to lose there this year.
I had hoped to see a very close and competitive game between these two teams. However, the game was anything but that early, as the Eagles got out to a 17 point lead with three minutes left in the first half. At that point, I was fully expecting to see a blowout, as it seemed like Holy Cross was really struggling to hit shots. However, the Crusaders stormed back to make it a contest. After trimming their halftime deficit down to 12, the Crusaders went on a 23-9 run to take a one point lead, 47-46, midway through the second half. However, this would be Holy Cross' first (and last) lead of the game. A basket by Tony Wroblicky put the Eagles back on top for good, despite Holy Cross's keeping the game within single digits until the final minute. The final was a 13-point victory for the Eagles, 67-54. Charles Hinkle led the Eagles with a double-double, scoring 17 points and adding 10 rebounds. Also, guard Daniel Munoz added 14 points. The Crusaders were led by Devin Brown, who scored 14 points despite the loss. With the win, American improved to 2-1 on conference play, and created a logjam for second place with Holy Cross, Lehigh, and Lafayette. Despite being early, it seems like defending your gym will again be the key to success in the Patriot League.
at AMERICAN 67, HOLY CROSS 54 01/14/2012
HOLY CROSS 8-9 (2-1) -- P. Jackson 6-12 1-2 18; J. Burrell 4-8 0-0 9; D. Brown 3-10 8-9 14; R. Evans 2-8 1-2 6; D. Dudzinski 0-7 4-4 4; P. Beans 2-7 5-8 11; M. Cavataio 3-7 2-2 8; J. Stevens 1-2 0-0 2; M. Miller 0-0 0-0 0; D. Goens 0-0 0-0 0; T. Abt 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 15-49 20-25 54. AMERICAN 11-7 (2-1) -- C. Hinkle 4-10 9-10 17; D. Munoz 5-7 4-4 14; J. Schoof 2-6 0-0 5; S. McCormack 4-5 0-0 8; T. Wroblicky 3-4 0-1 6; T. Brewer 3-8 0-0 7; R. Grafft 2-3 1-1 5; D. Fisher 0-1 1-2 1; B. Jolivette 0-1 2-2 2; W. Simon II 0-1 0-0 0; K. Kager 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 24-48 17-20 67.
Three-point goals: HC 4-17 (M. Cavataio 0-1; D. Brown 0-2; R. Evans 1-2; P. Beans 2-6; D. Dudzinski 0-4; J. Burrell 1-2), AMER 2-13 (T. Brewer 1-3; C. Hinkle 0-2; W. Simon 0-1; D. Munoz 0-2; J. Schoof 1-5); Rebounds: HC 26 (P. Beans 9), AMER 32 (C. Hinkle 10); Assists: HC 4 (M. Cavataio 2), AMER 14 (C. Hinkle 5); Total Fouls -- HC 20, AMER 17; Fouled Out: HC-None; AMER-None.