Navy, loser of five of its last six games and with its basketball season sinking faster than a heavy anchor, took advantage of American University's 18 missed foul shots, easily solved the Eagles' full-court press and scored a 90-77 upset tonight at Halsey Field House.
It was a night, first-year Navy Coach Paul Evans said, that his team (8-13) played to its potential, with each player fulfilling his role perfectly. (But it was also a night that AU (16-4) contributed to its own downfall. It was the Eagles' first loss this season against a team they should have beaten.
Navy took a 35-29 halftime lead as the Eagles, who had won 15 of their last 16 games, missed 10 of 17 first-half free throws. Six of those were on the front end of bonus foul shooting situations. That cost AU up to 12 points and the game, according to AU Coach Gary Williams.
For the game, AU made 17 of 35 foul shots, while the Midshipmen hit 32 of 42. Despite the final score, AU did not play that badly otherwise, shooting 53 percent from the field and committing only 13 turnovers.
Navy led by 19 points midway in the second half by using all five men to break AUs usually effective zone-press defense.That press had helped the Eagles come from behind in the second half several times prior to tonight.
"The one thing our kids have confidence in is getting the ball upcourt," said Evans, who instructed his forwards to help out inbounding the ball against the intense pressure.
Even Navy center Gary Price hustled back from midcourt several times to help his teammates push the ball across the timeline.
Crisp, decisive passes upcourt helped the Mids score six layups after breaking the press in a four-minute stretch near the beginning of the second half to coast to the nonconverence victory.
No one Midshipmen player dominated offensively, but four scored in double figures, Guard David Brooks led with 20 points on eight-for-11 shooting, and back court mates Kevin Cotherman and Bob Romaine had 15 and nine, respectively.
All five AU guards fouled out, all toward the end in AU's last-ditch, all-out comeback bid. That left forward Mark Nickens (23 points) to play the only guard spot in the waning minutes.
The most surprising thing about the Navy victory was that the Midshipmen, averaging only 66 points per game this season, had played their most competitive basketball by slowing the tempo to a near-standstill and passing the ball around until somebody was open for a 15- to 18-foot jump shot.
Navy built its halftime lead in that fashion, but competed admirably at AU's fast pace in the second half when the Mids built their lead to 19 points with six minutes left.
AU made only one run at the Midshipmen, and that came near the end of the first half. Trailing, 27-19, Navy's Bill Freitag scored on a driving layup and the Mids led, 29-19. But the officials took the basket away on a delayed charging foul.
Nickens came down for a layup and was fouled. Navy's Evans was charged with a technical foul for complaining about the call. The Eagles went on to make one of the two free throws, then scored on a jumper by Chris Knoche. Those quick six points closed the margin to 27-25 and it looked as if the Eagles were about to take charge.
But Navy held its composure and took a 10-point lead at the start of the second half on baskets by center Gary Price (15 points) and Cotherman, AU never came close again.