Seven points behind at halftime and seemingly sinking, Navy struggled back to conquer Army, 47-45, today and end a string of three losses to the Cadets.
A three-point play by Chuck Greene, off Jack Stumborg's fine feed, sent the Mids in front to stay at 45-43 with 2:21 to play.
Navy made only two of six free throws the rest of the way, but those points were enough to induce a sild celebration, particularly among the Navy seniors.
"After four years, we finally got it," said 19-point scorer Kevin Sinnett, whose key rebound with 1:15 left gave him a Navy career record of 786 to go with all his other Navy records. "Winning this game beat all the records. I think this made my whole four years here."
Stumborg, whose nine second-half points helped the Mids climb out of their deep hole, said, "After every year it just sits in you for a week or two. We knew we had to get them this year, and we got them."
After Army made its last five shots of the first half -- capped by Matt Brown's 30-footer at the buzzer -- the Mids were behind, 25-18, and "everybody was down in the dressing room," according to Sinnett.
But the Cadets, who had gone to a spread offense with seven minutes left in the half, unwisely maintained it after the intermission.
The Cadets, 11 for 17 from the field in the first half, attempted only one shot, which was successful, in the next nine minutes and Navy took advantage of turnovers to pull even at 30-30.
From there to the finish, the tension inside packed Halsey Field House was thicker than the fog outside. Only once thereafter could either team build more than a two-point lead.
That came when Sinnett made one of two free throws with 52 seconds left to push Navy up by 46-43. Twelve seconds later, Brown produced Army's final points on a baseline drive.
Pat Harris grabbed Stumborg, who made one of two free throws with 31 seconds remaining to create the final score. The Cadets, still deliberate, could not get a decent shot and it was plebe Joe McGuinness who finally unloaded a 20-foot jumper that was off target.
Plebe Myron Simons, who had made two big baskets on rebounds earlier, pulled the ball down for Navy and was fouled by Marty Coyne. Although Simons missed, the Cadets were devoid of timeouts and Harris' long pass upcourt went awry.
"I was a little surprised to see them keep to the spread at the start of the second half," said Navy Coach Bob Hamilton. "That seems like a long time to hold the ball. We did a better job in the second half of preventing them from passing the ball back and forth."
Navy's offense, almost totally confined to Sinnett (13 of 18 points) in the first half, saw everyone contributing down the stretch.
"Things started clicking, we started getting the ball inside and we took some of the pressure off Kevin," Stumborg said. "Kevin came out a bit and the other guys got a little more room to operate.'
This was the first time Hamilton had beaten Army in his three years here and it provided the opportunity for a third straight winning season, since the 12-12 Mids close against Randolph-Macon Tuesday.
"I'm happy for our seniors," Hamilton said."It's good for them. There's a lot of meaning to the game for our school and program and this has to be a meaningful win for me, especially in front of the home crowd."
Army Coach Mike Krzyzewski, who tried to recruit Sinnett, congratulated the 6-foot-6 senior afterward on a "fine career at Navy." Simons, also heavily recruited by West Point, was the target of a fan screaming "traitor" as he headed for the lockerroom. It is a heated rivalry.