American 61, Army 60
WASHINGTON, D.C. Brian Gilmore made one of two free throws with 3.6 seconds left to break a 60-60 deadlock and give top-seeded American a 61-60 victory over fourth-seeded Army in the semifinals of the Patriot League Men’s Basketball Tournament at Bender Arena on Sunday. The Black Knights end their season 11-19, while the Eagles advance to the league title game with a 23-7 record.
Gilmore scored 16 of his 19 points in the second half, including the final four to help American erase a five-point deficit in the final three minutes. The Black Knights led 60-55 following a three-pointer by junior F Cleveland Richard with 2:48 to go, but American scored the final six points.
Jordan Nichols made his only shot of the game to pull the Eagles within three points with 2:04 left. Army turned to junior G Josh Miller, who had nine second-half points, Miller went one-on-one with American’s Derrick Mercer on the Black Knights’ final possessions trying to draw the Patriot League Player of the Year’s fifth foul. Miller missed two shots, but Army was able to get the offensive rebound both times. On the third attempt, Nichols came from the help side and blocked the shot. Mercer scooped up the ball, raced it down the court and found Gilmore, who after a shot fake and move to his left, drilled a long triple to tie the score at 60-60 with 42 seconds remaining.
On Army’s ensuing possession, Miller took the shot again and Mercer secured the rebound. He tried a long pass, but the ball was batted around and ended up in the hands of Gilmore in the lane. He was fouled while trying to put up a shot with 3. 6 seconds remaining and hit one of two. Richard’s last second half-court shot was off the mark, sending the Eagles to their second straight conference championship game.
Richard led the Black Knights with 16 points on 6 of 14 shooting, including a career-high tying three three-pointers. Miller was the only other Army player in double figures with 15. Senior C Doug Williams paced the squad with six points in his final collegiate contest.
In addition to Gilmore, Garrison Carr added 17 points, 12 of which came from behind the three-point line. Army’s Marcus Nelson, the Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year, limited the league’s Player of the Year, Derrick Mercer, to only one field goal and four points. Mercer did hand out eight assists.
Army led 34-27 at halftime thanks to a 60.0-percent field goal mark, but the Black Knights hit only 35.7 percent of their shots in the second stanza. The Eagles shot 40.9 percent in the opening half and improved to 52.2 percent after halftime.
Gilmore gave the Eagles the first lead of the game with a three-pointer at the 18:53 mark. The Black Knights countered with five straight points. A drive and layup by Nick Hendra ended a six-minute, 24-second American scoring drought and tied the game at 5-5 with 12:29 left.
Richard and Carr went to work, combining for the next 11 points. After Carr’s 25-footer gave the Eagles a an 11-10 lead, Hence stroked two free throws to put Army back in front with 9:01 left. American responded with a 9-2 spurt to take its largest lead of the half at 20-14 with 5:49 remaining in the opening half.
The Black Knights ended the half on a 20-7 run. After an offensive rebound following a missed free throw, Miller stole the ball and went the length of the court to tie the game at 23-23. The remainder of the half was highlighted by fastbreak buckets from senior F Kenny Brewer and sophomore F Jeremy Hence, and Miller’s second field goal of the half with less than five seconds left to give Army a 34-27 lead, its largest of the half.
The officials had to go to the television monitor just before halftime when Steve Luptak’s three-quarter court shot banked in. The officials initially waved off the basket, and there call was confirmed after video replay.
Army’s 34 first-half points matched their total from the entire game in its first trip to Bender Arena this season, a 58-34 loss.
Richard and Carr led their respective teams with 11 points each in the first half. It marked the first time this season an Army player scored in double figures against the Eagles.
After two straight baskets by Miller to open the second half staked the Black Knights to a 38-27 lead with 19:11 left, Gilmore went to work scoring 12 consecutive points, including two three-pointers, to put the Eagles back in front 39-38.
Miller scored again to end a five-minute, 28-second scoring drought and give Army one-point lead, but the Eagles came back with a 10-4 run to take a 49-44 lead with 10:53 left. Back-to-back baskets by Nelson jumpstarted a 10-1 Army run that pushed the Black Knights back in front, 54-50.
Carr scored an old-fashioned three-point play to cut it to one, and after one free throw by Miller, Nichols made two foul shots to tie the game at 55-55 with 3:39 left. Miller broke the tie and Richard stroked a three-pointer to make it a five-point Army lead and set up American’s heroics in the final minutes.
Entering Sunday’s game, Army averaged 35.0 points per game in two outings against the Eagles this season.
The Black Knights have advanced to the semifinals of the tournament three straight years for the first time in program history. It was the second straight season the campaign ended at American.
Game Notes: Sunday’s game was the final collegiate contest for seniors Doug Williams, Curtis Koszuta, Kenny Brewer and John Moonshower ... Army is now 0-5 all-time in Patriot League semifinal games ... American (58.4) and Army (60.8) entered the game ranked first and second, respectively, in the Patriot League in scoring defense ... Army has now lost seven straight to American, including 10 in a row on the road ... American has won 12 straight games ... The loss snapped Army’s three-game winning streak and two-game road winning streak ... American outrebounded the Black Knights, 28-27 ... The Black Knights return for of their five starters next season, including their top four scorers ... Army would have been the lowest seed ever to advance to the Patriot League championship game ... It was the closest defeat in Army’s five Patriot League semifinal appearances. Army entered the game with an average margin of defeat of 11.8 points in the semifinal round.