For want of a free throw, Navy gave away a basketball game today that was already wrapped and ready for delivery in the victory column.
Yale upset the Mids, 60-58, as Larry Zigerelli drove down the lane to score a moment before the buzzer sounded.
With 6 1/2 minutes left, the Elis were 11 points down, but basketball rules are such that losing teams can foul repeatedly and catch up if the leader misses at the line. On six one-and-one opportunities in the last 2 1/2 minutes, Navy managed only one point of the maximum 12.
"The foul shooting at the end was just . . . it's unbelievable that you can't step up there . . ." and Navy Coach Bob Hamilton's voice trailed off in despair.
He would have been even more distraught if he had stayed at courtside at halftime and watched the intercompany foul-shooting contest, in which one young man dropped 12 of 15 tries in 30 seconds.
After the Elis pulled into the game's 13th tie at 36-all Navy ripped off eight straight points. Chuck Greene made three baskets and freshman David Brooks, after derailing a Yale fast break, connected from long range.
Navy (7-5) expanded its margin to 53-42 with 6 1/2 minutes remaining. But Andy Fleming, Yale's high scorer with 18 points, hit four of five long shots over the Navy zone to pull the Elis back into contention.
It was still 57-50 just short of the three-minute mark, when Fleming sank two free throws. Then Navy's Myron Simons took five seconds before tossing the ball in and Yale converted that mistake into another Fleming jumper to cut the lead to 57-54.
Simons, a 56 percent four shooter and obvious Yale target, twice failed on the front end of one-and-one opportunities before Fleming, who had 16 points in the second half, sank two more free throws with 1:52 left.
Brooks then failed at the line, but John Geshay took the offensive rebound and was fouled. He made one Navy's only point of the last 3:42, and Simons grabbed the rebound after the second shot.
Zigerelli, the chaser out front for Yale, was playing with four fouls and frantically tried to signal Coach Ray Carazo to give someone else the intentional foul role. When the ball went out of bounds, Carazo sent Frank Maturo in for Zigerelli and Naturo immediately grabbed Bruce Grooms.
Grooms missed and Steve Leondis converted the returned Zigerelli's feed at the other end to tie the game with 26 seconds left.
Three seconds later Leondis fouled Greene. He missed, too, and Yale controlled the ball until Zigerelli drove on Grooms for the victory.
"It's a really disappointing loss, a real tough loss at this stage," Hamilton said.
The fact that Yale had beaten Army by one point on Tuesday, coming from nine points back in the last 10 minutes, offered no consolation. Apparently, it provided no warning, either.