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American's Slipper Just Didn't Quite Fit

(Photo Courtesy AP/Baltimore Sun)

I mean, really, did you FEEL it yesterday?

The Patriot League champion, up by ten at halftime against one of the big boys, Villanova. The team that almost made the Final Four last year. The school of "Easy Ed" Pinckney. Howard Porter. Rollie Massimino and the "Four Corners" offense. The 1985 national champions.

Up by TEN points. Outplaying Villanova. In THEIR house.

The Cinderella story was there. Right there, dammit! 'Nova started the game in cruise control, and G Garrison Carr, G Derrick Mercer and F Brian Gilmore happily took advantage. Carr got hot, knocking down six 3-pointers. Mercer, in a move that typefied the first half, picked the pocket of Villanova G Dwayne Anderson and converted an easy layup against a sluggish Wildcat team. And Gilmore was everywhere, elbowing Wildcat F Dante Cunningham, hitting 3-point jumpshots and becoming that all-important third gear.

As broadcast veteran Dick Enberg said on his broadcast, Villanova was content to let a jumpshooting team get into a jumpshooting contest with them. And they were losing. Big.

To Villanova head coach Jay Wright's immense credit, he knocked some heads at halftime and shook off Villanova's rust. He made some key adjustments that led to Villanova's eventual win. And American, trying to do their best impression of the Bucknell team that beat Arkansas and Kansas, simply ran out of pixie dust.

Changing to the 1-2-1-1 and putting a tall defender on Carr was a masterstroke. Wright didn't let Carr get the easy hoops in the second half, and he went to their strength and American's weakness - the inside game - to slowly, but surely, reduce the deficit.

But once Carr got his fourth foul and American had to rely on the gassed Gilmore and Mercer to finish them off, the Eagles found no answer to replace Carr's production. Sure, Gilmore and Mercer did try. But the 3's that served them well in the first half were more labored, falling more and more short. The defensive poinding by Villanova was clearly wearing them down.

Down by 5, Carr came back into the game. But Villanova by then was rolling, the magic for American gone. Carr's shooting touch - the devastating shooting streaks I'd seen him engage in all year - was there, but he wasn't going to get screens or open looks from 3-point land.

On a day and evening when David was getting creamed against the national title contenders, and upsets were few and far between - can you really say Western Kentucky's win over Illinois was really a shock? - American's story really stood out on the first day, even in defeat 80-67. Here were two 5'8 guards - 5'8 with lifts! - taking it to a member of NCAA royalty.

The NCAA tournament is fantastic for Patriot League schools like American. It gives them a national stage - a primetime slot where everyone can see what they do. Undoubtedly the American University president and Patriot League office were thrilled by what happened - front-page news, a captive audience who now know the university - and maybe a Bracket Buster game or two next year. For them, it's a slam dunk.

But for me, the heroic performance was much more bittersweet. Because they HAD them right where they wanted them. The slipper fit. It fit, dammit!


Anonymous said…
Methinks you are a bit too obsessed with the Patriot League. Most of us couldn't give two figs unless it were Lehigh.

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