American Coach Jeff Jones certainly didn’t intentionally schedule 10 of the Eagles’ first 12 games on the road. Jones is always looking to challenge his team early to prepare the players for the Patriot League season. But even with a senior-laden squad, he didn’t want to play this many games away from Bender Arena.
Chalk it up to success. American’s first NCAA tournament appearance last season and its strong showing against Tennessee in its first-round game made a few teams reluctant to play the Eagles on their home court. When it came time to put together this season’s schedule, one team backed out of a contract and two more discontinued their series with American. What should have been three home games for the Eagles became three road games.
Having lost three in a row before an 11-day break for exams, American enters another difficult stretch – three road games in six days.
“It’s not like we’re in a panic mode, but I think given our schedule, there’s not going to be any nights off,” Jones said. “I think our guys are playing hard. It’s not an effort thing. I don’t think we’re playing terrible, but we need to be much more efficient. With our schedule, there’s no room for error.”
Senior guard Derrick Mercer sees these next three games as crucial for American.
“It determines whether you want to be 4-7 or 7-4,” he said. “Coach always talks about how it’s hard to win on the road and you become a good team by winning on the road. It’s definitely a big test for us.”
Many of these road games are against local teams. Having already played Howard and Georgetown, American continues the Big 5 version of its schedule this week beginning with George Washington on Wednesday followed by Maryland on Dec. 22. The Eagles also play their Patriot League rival Navy twice this year.
“I think we’re the one school that says, ‘Hey, it’s a really good thing to do,’ [playing local teams],” Jones said. “We’ve got good relationships with these schools. Once in a blue moon, we might get the upset, but for the most part, [the other schools] know that they’re the big dogs. The odds are against us. For us, for our team, for our student body, for our alumni base, it’s a positive thing. It’s also good for recruiting. Nobody can ever say we duck people.
“We’re very appreciative [of the games]. Those guys don’t have to play us. The fact that Gary [Williams] has done it now for eight years, and John [Thompson III] for the last couple— ”
It was pointed out that Williams continues to schedule American even though the Eagles beat Maryland, 67-59, last year at Comcast Center.
“I’m not sure they haven’t got something for us coming up,” Jones said with a smile.
Before Jones can worry about what the Terrapins have in store for American, he has to prepare his team to play the Colonials.
“You look at GW, and from the beginning of the year to now, they’ve really made big strides,” Jones said. “We’re going to have our hands full. It’s a good challenge. Hopefully, we’ll be ready for it.
“We’ve got to play our pace. They want to play at a faster pace. We’ve got to resist because they are so athletic and they get after you with the different defenses. There’s going to be some enticing situations. We’ve got to be smart enough to know, okay, that looks good, but . . . that doesn’t mean we’re going to walk it up and run 30 seconds off the shot clock every time, but we’ve got to be very selective and again, efficiency, that’s where it factors in.”
The Eagles enter the GW game 1-1 against local schools, having beaten Howard and lost to Georgetown. Mercer may come from New Jersey, but he recognizes the importance of doing well against area teams.
“You want to make a name for yourself,” he said. “You want to be known locally. It’s a chance to prove you are a good team and that you should be mentioned when they talk about teams locally. It’s good. Nice little local battle, I like it.”
December 16, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
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