Jones pushes players to finish season strong
In 11 years in the Patriot League under coach Jeff Jones, American University has never finished below .500 in the conference, been seeded worse than fourth in the conference tournament or lost an opening round game.
Getting there some years has been harder than others. This has been one of those seasons as AU (10-15, 5-5) still has plenty of work to do to keep its record intact.
"We're proud of that," Jones said. "You've got all kinds of different goals. Obviously you want to win the league and go to the [NCAA] tournament. But we want that streak to stay intact. We want to earn a home game. We want to earn being in the top half of the league. We're the only team, to my knowledge, that's done that."
|American at Navy|
|When » Wednesday, 7 p.m.|
|Alumni Hall, Annapolis|
When asked about Saturday's game against Army (12-13, 5-5), which is tied with American for fourth place in the league, Jones quickly steers the conversation back to the present -- the Eagles' trip Wednesday night to Navy (7-19, 1-9). Even though AU has dominated Navy by 22 and 23 points in the last two meetings, Jones knows the Eagles can't take any game for granted.
"The truth is, we're going on the road. We're playing a Navy team that's dangerous," Jones said. "They play really hard. They get after everyone defensively, and they have the ability to get hot from the 3-point line."
Since joining the Patriot League in 2001, AU has won four regular season and two conference titles, advancing to the NCAAs in 2008 and 2009. In four of the last five years the Eagles have won at least 20 games. But AU entered this season realizing it was destined for the middle of the pack. Defending champion Lehigh welcomed back two-time conference player of the year C.J. McCollum, who has since been injured, and 2011 champion Bucknell returned 2011 player of the year Mike Muscala.
Meanwhile, AU graduated its top two scorers, Charles Hinkle and Troy Brewer, leaving the team with little offensive punch or quickness. As a result, the Eagles have had to play more zone defense than Jones prefers and has adopted a physical style, taking advantage of the experienced inside duo of 6-foot-10 junior Tony Wroblicky (7.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg) and 6-8 senior Stephen Lumpkins (15.0 ppg, 9.7 rpg).
Sophomore guard John Schoof (10.0 ppg) has become a dangerous outside threat, leading the Patriot League in 3-pointers (2.4 per game) and 3-point accuracy (49.6 percent). Senior point guard Daniel Munoz (10.4 ppg, 3.6 apg) has been effective and clutch. On Sunday he scored eight points in overtime, including the winning 3-pointer at the buzzer against Holy Cross.
Improvement has been painstaking, but it was evident Sunday. A month earlier, the Eagles lost to the Crusaders 79-60.
"It's hard to see improvement, even if you're here every day," Jones said. "We're not going to get quicker. We are what we are. But can we find a style of play ... to be successful?"
So far the answer to that question appears to be yes.