LORETTO - Don Friday rewarded his St. Francis players for a tremendous character win with the classy move of bringing the entire team to the media room for postgame interviews Saturday night.
"This is just a great feel-good win for our kids," Friday said. "It's been a tough couple of days."
Junior point guard Chris Johnson was kicked off the team Friday for an undisclosed rules violation, and as the SFU coach described it, "One of their very close friends is no longer with us."
Given that, and the fact that American scored the game's first 14 points, it would have been easy for the Red Flash players to fold. Instead, they hung tough for a historic home victory.
St. Francis trailed by as many as 16 points in the first half before rallying to a 66-61 win. It was the largest deficit overcome by the Flash men in a home win since DeGol Arena opened in 1972.
"We learned that no matter what we go through, if we come together to play as a team then nothing can stop us," said SFU center Scott Eatherton, who scored a team-high 21 points.
"It's a big family," junior guard Anthony Ervin said. "One team, one goal."
Asked what the comeback showed, Ervin said, "That we're tough. There' no other way to explain it."
St. Francis (3-7) trailed 37-21 with two minutes left in the first half and by 14 (39-25) at the break. They Flash were down 53-43 with 8:53 to play, then stormed back with a 17-3 run to take control and steal the game from an American (8-3) team that had won eight in a row.
"They've faced a lot of adversity, but yet they had the character to continue fighting hard," veteran American coach Jeff Jones said of the Flash. "I think that's a credit to the players, but it's also a credit to the coaching staff."
Friday wanted to reward the players for sticking together by bringing them all to the postgame press conference. Typically, only two or three players meet the media.
"A lot of teams might have packed that in, and that thing might have gotten ugly," Friday said.
St. Francis came up empty three times with a chance to tie in the second half, but on the fourth, Ollie Jackson buried a 3-pointer from the left side for a 57-56 lead with 2:47 to go. American missed a 3-pointer on its next trip, then Eatherton scored inside while getting fouled and hit the free throw to make it 60-56 with 1:51 left.
American, which hit 9-of-15 3-pointers in the first half, went ice cold from beyond the arc down the stretch. The Eagles had several opportunities but couldn't buy a big bucket in the final two minutes, and Eatherton hit four free throws in the final 11 seconds to clinch it.
"Tonight was just a good night for us," said Ervin, who had 12 points. "We played together."
Jackson scored 14 for the Flash. Troy Brewer hit 7-of-9 3-pointers and had a game-high 23 points for American, while three others had 10 apiece.
The Flash offense, which has a big adjustment to make without Johnson on the floor running the show, looked lost at the beginning in getting down big. Ervin, the team's sixth man and arguably its best all-around player, was on the bench the entire time as SFU fell behind 14-0.
The Flash were able to fight back this time, and Friday defended his decision to have Ervin on the bench to start the game.
"We'll have to do a better job opening up games," the coach said. "But for now I think the chemistry works for us, and I think we'll end up sticking with it."
AMERICAN (8-3): Munoz 2-6 5-6 10, Brewer 8-15 0-0 23, Schoof 0-1 0-0 0, Hinkle 4-11 0-0 10, Wroblicky 1-2 2-2 4, McCormack 1-1 0-1 2, Fisher 1-3 0-0 2, Grafft 0-0 0-0 0, Jolivette 3-5 4-6 10, Hill 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 20-45 11-15 61.
ST. FRANCIS (3-7): Whyatt 0-3 4-6 4, Brown 1-3 0-1 2, Ritter 1-3 1-4 3, Jackson 5-7 0-0 14, Eatherton 6-7 9-11 21, Peters 2-4 0-0 4, Ervin 4-6 3-4 12, Stanley 0-1 0-0 0, Taylor 3-11 0-0 6. Totals 22-45 17-26 66.
Halftime-American U. 39-25. 3-Point Goals-American U. 10-23 (Brewer 7-9, Hinkle 2-8, Munoz 1-4, Schoof 0-1, Hill 0-1), St. Francis 5-10 (Jackson 4-5, Ervin 1-1, Ritter 0-1, Whyatt 0-3). Fouled Out-None. Rebounds-American U. 25 (Hinkle, Munoz, Wroblicky 5), St. Francis 31 (Eatherton 9). Assists-American U. 13 (Munoz 5), St. Francis (10 (Ritter 5). Total Fouls-American U. 21, St. Francis 14. A-762.