WASHINGTON (AP) -- Make room in the bracket for the red, white and blue. American is finally going to the NCAA tournament.
To the strains of "Don't Stop Believin"' in their intimate and noisy arena, the Eagles won the Patriot League title Friday with a 52-46 victory over Colgate. Students and alumni, young and old, stormed the court to celebrate American's first trip to the big show since the school joined Division I in 1967.
Garrison Carr scored 17 points, and Brian Gilmore scored 11 and wrestled away a key steal in the final 20 seconds for the top-seeded Eagles (21-11), whose only previous berth in an NCAA tournament came as a Division II school in 1960.
American had fallen at the final huddle three times since joining the Patriot League in 2001, losing the 2002 championship game at home and the 2003 and 2004 title games on the road. For coach Jeff Jones, the victory achieved the goal envisioned when the former Virginia coach was hired eight years ago by the school located in the affluent northwest corner of the nation's capital. Students chanted "Jeff Jones!" during the postgame award presentation ceremony.
Kyle Roemer scored 17 points, and Alex Woodhouse had a career-high 16 rebounds for the third-seeded Raiders (18-14), who were seeking to earn their first NCAA berth since Adonal Foyle led them to back-to-back Patriot League titles in 1995-96. Colgate fell to 0-9 all-time at Bender Arena.
Neither team led by seven in a game that was a back-and-forth exchange of unsafe leads. Every point scored over one four-minute span came on either a putback or a free throw, and the game came down to a wrestling match between Woodhouse and Gilmore at the top of the key with American leading by three with 19 seconds to play.
Gilmore stole the ball from the Woodhouse, and the Eagles called timeout while the pair were sprawling on the floor. Two free throws by Derrick Mercer then gave AU a five-point lead.
After a nervous start -- the score was only 6-6 after 7 1/2 minutes -- Carr got going with a baseline runner, a 3-pointer and a steal-and-layup. His solo 7-0 run put the Eagles ahead 13-6, but Roemer hit two 3-pointers in a 12-4 run to give the Raiders a one-point lead.
Cornelio Guibunda's putback for AU was the only basket in the final two minutes of the first half, and the Eagles went to the break with a 27-24 lead.
The second half was also defense-dominated, with neither team able to regularly create an open shot. An 8-0 run led by Roemer and Kendall Chones gave Colgate a 38-34 lead with 9 minutes remaining, but Carr answered with a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to one.
Written by the Associated Press