Moldoveanu’s hot shooting sparks Eagles
Forward’s career-high 39 points seal AU win in Patriot League opener
American forward Vlad Moldoveanu claims he usually doesn’t play his best basketball when his mother, Carmen Tocala, and family friend Gheorghe Muresan, the formerWashington Bullets player, are in the stands.
Tocala made the trip from Romania to watch her son play Saturday and was joined by fellow RomanianMuresan at the Eagles’ game at Bender Arena, where they were treated to a dominating performance byMoldoveanu.
The senior forward scored 29 of his career-high 39 points in the second half and finished with 12 rebounds for his fourth career double-double in American’s 8275 victory over defending Patriot League champion Lehigh in the conference opener for both teams. His 39 points rank seventh most for a single game in school history.
“I think we should keep Vlad’s mom here for sure,” teammate Nick Hendra said. “She can’t go back to Romania.”
In a matchup of the two top scorers in the league and favorites to win the Patriot League player of the year, Moldoveanu and Lehigh sophomore C. J. McCollum put on a spectacular show. McCollum scored 32 points to lead the Mountain Hawks (9-7, 0-1 Patriot).
Moldoveanu seemed less motivated by who was in the crowd andwhowas on the court than his previous performance against Lehigh. In last season’s conference tournament, he scored four points in 19 minutes in American’s third loss in a row to the Mountain Hawks.
“I was thinking about the fact that we went 0-3 against them last year,” he said. “ They beat us pretty good all three times as I remember. I had to step up.”
And step up he did. With the outcome hanging in the balance, Moldoveanu single-handedly took the game over for American (11-5, 1-0) in the second half. The Eagles trailed, 47-44, when he went on a scoring surge to build their 10-point lead.
It began with a layup that he converted into a three-point play after being fouled by Jordan Hamilton. On American’s next possession, Moldoveanu was bringing the ball up the court when he handed it off to Steve Luptak. As soon as he got near the three-point arc, Moldoveanu looked back at Luptak, who immediately delivered him the ball. Seconds later, Moldoveanu’s shot was falling through the net.
“Once he got it going, we tried to go to him,” American Coach Jeff Jones said. “But more importantly, his teammates were looking for him.”
Moldoveanu scored eight consecutive points and 19 of the Eagles’ next 21 points as they took a 65-55 lead.
McCollum made sure to keep Lehigh in the game. His threepoint play began a 10-2 run by the Mountain Hawks that pulled them to 67-65 with a little more than five minutes remaining.
After McCollum put back his own miss to cut American’s advantage to 78-75 with 49.8 seconds remaining, Moldoveanu secured the win for the Eagles. He sank a jump shot to extend the lead, played good defense underneath the basket to prevent McCollum from making a layup, grabbed the rebound and then was fouled by Gabe Knutson. Moldoveanu made both his free throws, going a perfect 10 for 10 from the foul line to put the Eagles atop the standings.
“Well, if that’s any indication of what the league season is going to be like,” Jones said, “I think we’re all in for a lot of excitement.”
American, which has scored 70 or more points in four consecutive games for the first time since the 2003-04 season, has won five of its last six games. Up next for the Eagles, who were picked to finish first in the league this season, is Bucknell. The Bison had won seven of their previous eight games heading into their game against Navy on Saturday night.
“Conference play is where it happens. Nothing is more important than conference play,” Hendra said. “It’s great to start the season 1-0.”