Holy Cross 58, American 54
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Holy Cross spoiled an American party.
Silencing a sea of red, white, and blue in the biggest game ever on American’s campus, the Crusaders beat the Eagles 58-54 on Thursday to win their second consecutive Patriot League title and earn a berth in the NCAA tournament.
Patrick Whearty put Holy Cross ahead on a layup on which Keith Gray was called for goaltending with 1:02 remaining. Brian Wilson went 4-for-4 from the free-throw line in the final 20 seconds to clinch the Crusaders’ ninth NCAA appearance and its third as a member of the Patriot League.
Tim Szatko scored 16 points and was selected tournament MVP, and Wilson had 15 for the second-seeded Crusaders (18-14), who had just four turnovers. Conference player of the year Patrick Doctor scored 18 to lead the top-seeded Eagles (18-12).
Andres Rodriguez made a 3-pointer with 1:37 remaining to give American a 51-50 lead, but Whearty’s layup put Holy Cross back ahead. The Eagles had two possessions to try to retake the lead but missed the shot both times, and Glenn Stokes missed a desperation 3-pointer that would have tied it with 7 seconds left.
The loss made for a somber ending to a celebratory day at Bender Arena, which holds about 5,000 and was full for first time since the building opened in 1988. Students postponed the start of their spring break to attend the game, and some early arrivals entertained themselves by chanting, ``We want Duke.″ It was also the first time American has appeared on national television.
American won the regular season title in its first season in the Patriot League after switching from the more competitive Colonial Athletic Association. The Eagles never came close to being a force in the CAA and finished 7-20 last year.
The game was played at a deliberate half-court pace, although a pair of coast-to-coast moves by Rodriguez gave the Eagles an 18-11 lead early. Holy Cross then found a way to get its big men the ball through American’s zone, and Whearty scored three inside baskets in a 15-2 run that put the Crusaders ahead 26-20.
Steven Miles responded for American, making back-to-back 3-pointers to tie it, and the Eagles held on to lead 28-27 at halftime.
Doctor was limited by double-teams much of the game, but he found room for a layup and a hook shot that turned into a three-point play to put the Eagles ahead 40-34 early in the second half.
But Holy Cross came back and retook the lead on a 3-pointer by Szatko, and the game was tight the rest of the way.
Doctor, who scratched his corona in the Eagles quarterfinal victory, came out wearing the same sunglasses he wore in the semifinals. But he ditched the eyewear in the first minute after one of his first passes sailed out of bounds for a turnover.