American can expect a lot more games like Saturday’s contest against Lehigh. The Mountain Hawks, tabbed by preseason voters as the team most likely to prevent the Eagles from defending their title, pushed American to overtime at Bender Arena before the Eagles pulled away for a 76-66 victory. The gritty win was a good test for American, which undoubtedly will find every opponent playing its best game against the Eagles this season.
“There’s definitely a target on our backs,” senior guard Frank Borden said. “It’s something that’s going to be with us all season. We just need to step up and play like defending champs.”
Borden said the players’ approach hasn’t changed from a year ago when they were trying to take American to its first NCAA tournament.
“It’s pretty much the same,” he said. “We know we accomplished something last year, and now we just want to focus on this year.”
One of the biggest pitfalls facing defending champions is complacency. American Coach Jeff Jones has tried to prevent his players from being infected by a false sense of contentment by constantly reminding them what it took to reach their goal.
“We’ve talked about that as a team,” he said. “There’s been people that have asked: ‘Last year you were the hunter, this year the hunted.’ We have to be the hunter. That has to be our mindset because we have a chance to be a good team, if we have that mindset. If we’re thinking about anything other than going out and being hungry and doing the extra things and trying to play harder than the opponent then we’re not going to be very successful.
“Other people look at us different. We’re going to get everybody’s best shot. That’s why we need to make sure that we’re ready to go and we have no letdowns.”
January 13, 2009; 6:30 AM ET
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