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Mathews Scores 24 As the Midshipmen Clinch No. 6 Seed

By Christian Swezey
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, February 24, 2005; Page D06

Navy senior captain Taj Mathews didn't have the best senior day pregame ceremony -- his mother showed up late and nearly missed the entire presentation.

Mathews made sure, however, that she didn't miss the real highlights. He made four three-pointers in the first 4 minutes 51 seconds to spring Navy toward a 76-57 victory over Lafayette before 1,380 in a Patriot League game last night in Annapolis.

Mathews finished with 24 points as Navy (9-17, 5-8) recorded its largest margin of victory against a Division I opponent at home since a 95-54 victory over Mount St. Mary's on Dec. 30, 2001.

The Midshipmen also clinched the No. 6 seed in the Patriot League tournament. They will play a first-round neutral-site game in Lewisburg, Pa., on March 4. They avoided having to play one of the top two seeds on its home court in the first round.

"Outsiders may look at it or fans may look at it like it's good we avoided a first-round road game," Navy Coach Billy Lange said. "But we're not at the point in our program where we can pick and choose who we want to play."

Navy has lost four straight league tournament games, dating from a loss in the 2001 final.

The fast start by Mathews last night helped Navy to a 16-6 lead. Lafayette came back to take a 26-24 lead on a layup by Jamaal Douglas. Around that point, Navy switched to a matchup zone and the Leopards scored just two points on their next 10 possessions.

Navy ended the half on a 14-8 run and led 38-34 at intermission.

During the break, Lange asked Mathews to make more of a commitment to defending junior guard Marcus Harley, who had 10 points in the first half. Mathews held Harley scoreless in the second half.

Junior David Hooper had 12 points and senior George O'Garro added 10 points and 11 rebounds for Navy. Freshman Bilal Abdullah had 14 points and Harley added 10 for Lafayette (8-18, 4-9).

Navy also had 71 rebounds and out-rebounded Lafayette by 38; both tied school records.

"We didn't shoot well and Navy rebounded well," Lafayette Coach Fran O'Hanlon said.

Mathews left the game with about 30 seconds left to a large ovation. His mother missed a ceremony when team officials presented him with a framed jersey, but she ran to center court in time to pose for a picture with the other seniors and their families. "I was really happy my parents were here to see me," Mathews said. "They don't get to see many of my games since they're coming from Seattle. And I was very happy to see my mother come sprinting through those doors."

AMERICAN 65, LEHIGH 61: Jason Thomas scored a career-high 27 points and sank a pair of free throws late as the Eagles won on the road.

Thomas shot 10 for 15 overall and 5 for 8 on three-pointers to lead AU (14-11, 7-6 Patriot).

Jose Olivero led Lehigh (13-13, 7-6) with 19 points and Earl Nurse scored 12 points.

Lehigh trailed by nine with 6:05 to go, but a rally capped by a three-pointer by Olivero cut American's lead to two with 3:02 remaining. Linas Lekavicius sank a pair of foul shots with 21 seconds to go to give American a 63-58 lead.

Olivero responded with another three-pointer, but Thomas made his only foul shots.

DREXEL 78, GEORGE MASON 66: Jeremiah King led five players in double figures with a game-high 19 points as the Dragons defeated the Patriots in Philadelphia.

Drexel (15-10, 10-6 Colonial Athletic Association) took control with a 13-2 run that started at the end of the first half and carried over into the second.

Tony Skinn had 17 points to lead George Mason (16-11, 10-7). Jai Lewis added 14 points.

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