Penn State failed to score a field goal in the final 11:24 but rediscovered the art of free-throw shooting in the waning minutes to sink Navy, 51-44, today.
The purists may look at the final score and see the game as a defensive struggle. Actually, the sloppily played contest was one neither team appeared to want to win or seemed capable of winning.
In improving its record to 15-9, defense-oriented Penn State tried its best to give the game away to Navy (9-10 near the end. But the Mids committed just as many errors and failed to take advantage of the visitors' generosity.
"It wasn't a good offensive game for either team," said Navy Coach Bob Hamilton. "We haven't been shooting well and our defense was responsible for our staying in the game."
For more than two-thirds of the game, it wasn't clear whether both teams were playing excellent defense or had left their offenses in the locker room.
Navy went through a nine-minute scoreless drought in the first half, but somehow trailed by only four points, 25-21, at intermission. Sinking only seven of 20 field-goal attempts in the half, Navy's aggressive man-to-man defense forced the sloppy Nittany Lions into 10 turnovers to stay close. Chuck Greene had seven of his 15 points and Myron Simons scored five to help Navy rally from an 18-9 deficit to within a point, 21-20, with 1:26 to play in the half.
Gary Korkowski's only four points of the game gave Penn State its four-point halftime margin.
"I told the guys at halftime we were up against one good defensive team," said Penn State Coach Dick Harter. "This is not an easy place to play in and we went to a spread offense to hold the ball for dear life, but we sure game them a shot at winning."
Penn State's leading scorer, Frank Brickowski (10.6), muscled in seven of his game-high 20 points, including his team's final field goal, in the first 8 1/2 minutes of the second half to give his team a 40-33 lead.
The visitors then decided to play keepaway and Navy cooperated graciously. While the Lions were going through their long drought, Navy failed to hit a two-pointer for 9 1/2 minutes. Except for the constant fouling (a total of 54 fouls were called) the 2,000 bored fans might have dozed off.
The game took a sudden turn in Navy's favor when Brickowski, a 6-foot-9 immovable object, tried to establish ownership of the entire building. The junior was whistled for three obvious pushing fouls on one Navy possession. "I was doing the same thing in the first half," said Brickowsi. "I was surprised I got called three straight times (within 42 seconds). I thought I kept my hands off him (John Geshay)."
With Brickowski on the bench with four fouls, the Mids began to sneak back. David Brooks' only basket of the game pulled the Mids to within four points, 43-39, with 2:21 on the clock.
Following a missed free throw by Penn State's Mike Lang, Kevin Cotherman gunned in a long onehander from the corner to bring Navy closer, 43-41, with 1:57 left.
Penn State which had missed several free throws in the second half, finally began to hit them. Lang sank a pair to give his team a four-point lead again with 1:46 on the clock.
The Nittany Lions, ranked fifth in the country on defense (allowing only 59.2 points coming into today's game), then went back to its mugging tactics and that was it for Navy.
The Mids missed badly on their final five attempts from the floor and had little choice but to foul to get the ball back. Navy drew within two points again on two free throws by Geshay with 57 seconds left. But Brickowski hit four straight from the line and Rich Fetter added two around Navy misses and Penn State had its ninth triumph in its last 11 games.