Maybe it’s because American doesn’t resemble what most people think of when they think of a top defensive team that the Eagles don’t receive more attention for how well they play at that end of the court. They aren’t a full-court, trapping team that disrupts their opponents with their length. They aren’t a physically imposing team with a big center swatting away shots. And they aren’t a speedy team that picks off passes. They’re just a fundamentally solid team that ranks second in scoring defense (58.1 points) and field goal percentage defense (.381) in Patriot League games only.
“We take a lot of pride in our defense,” AU Coach Jeff Jones said. “We spend a lot of time working on it. The way we play defense isn’t anything exotic. It’s pretty basic. We try to look at our opponents and take away certain things. The big thing is trying to contest every possession.”
American didn’t give Lehigh many good looks at the basket in the Eagles’ 66-58 win on Saturday. The Mountain Hawks made just eight field goals in the first half and shot 38.5 percent from the floor for the game. Junior guard Marquis Hall, a preseason all-Patriot League selection, was held to seven points on 3-of-12 shooting.
Hall isn’t the first to struggle against American. Some of the league’s more prolific scorers -- Army’s Cleveland Richard, Lafayette’s Andrew Brown, Navy’s Chris Harris, Colgate’s Mike Venezia and Bucknell’s Patrick Behan -- have each been held below their scoring average by the Eagles. American also has allowed only three league teams to score more than 65 points: Lehigh, in an overtime game on Jan. 10; Navy, in a one-point win at Annapolis; and Holy Cross, in the Eagles’ only league loss so far. Navy and Holy Cross are the only Patriot teams to shoot better than 39 percent against them.
Though senior guard Derrick Mercer and senior forward Jordan Nichols are considered the team’s best defenders, Jones pointed out: “In order to be a good defensive team, you’ve got to have everybody.” Sophomore guard Nick Hendra is becoming a force inside, especially when it comes to grabbing rebounds. Hendra, who made the first start of his career on Saturday, finished with nine rebounds and is averaging 6.3 rebounds per game in league contests.
“That’s something he does well,” Jones said. “He’s got a strong body. He can get in there and mix it up a little bit.”
Hendra started in place of senior guard Garrison Carr, who had started 45 consecutive games for American until Saturday. Jones did not elaborate on why he sat down Carr, other than to say: “That’s an internal thing. We’ve dealt with it, and we’re moving on.”
Despite not shooting the ball well, Carr played one of his better all-around games. He finished with 14 points on 4-of-14 shooting, grabbed five rebounds and had four assists in 33 minutes. His five rebounds equaled his total from the last five games combined, and his four assists were as many as he had in the past four games.
February 10, 2009; 6:03 AM ET
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