Senior David Brooks collected 28 points, 22 in the second half, and freshman Vernon Butler sank 16 of 18 free throws as Navy ended American University's four-game winning streak tonight, 81-74.
The Midshipmen sank seven straight free throws after two misses on one-and-one opportunities had enabled the Eagles to close an eight-point gap to 74-72.
Freshman Richard Knar, who had failed on his previous attempt, was an obvious repeat target for the desperate Eagles and Mark Nickens grabbed him with 37 seconds left. But this time Knar made both free throws, then Brooks intercepted Gordon Austin's inbounds pass and Rob Romaine became the next free throw shooter. He sank two.
After Austin missed a shot, Butler netted two more free throws, giving him a collegiate high of 22 points and leaving Navy (13-8) an unbeatable eight points in front with 22 seconds remaining.
Butler, who led High Point to the Maryland AA championship a year ago, also had a game-high 17 rebounds in a sensational 39-minute performance.
"This was a big confidence-builder, beating a team that had beaten Georgetown," Butler said. "We hadn't played well the last few games and we want to win 18 or 19, so we can go to a tournament.
"We would have lost without those free throws at the end. It made me feel good to hit my foul shots, because in high school I was a terrible foul shooter, only about 60 percent. But Coach (David) Laton worked with me and got me to aim for the back of the rim instead of the front and now they're going in."
Brooks hit only three of 12 shots from the field as AU built an eight-point lead in the first half. After the intermission, however, he shot over the Eagles' 3-2 zone, converting 10 of 14, most from deep in the corners.
"Usually if I'm missing I'm doing something wrong," said Brooks, whose 28 points equaled his career high. "Coach said I wasn't following through, so I came out and worked on it before the second half started. I just needed to hit a couple in a row.
"I was really open tonight, more than I'd been in the last few games. They were sagging and I couldn't get the ball inside, so I shot a lot."
Cliff Maurer, Navy's 6-foot-10 center, blocked seven shots and was an intimidating factor underneath in the second half. He picked up three fouls in the first 10 1/2 minutes and sat out the rest of the first half, with Navy trying Gary Price and Tony Wells in his place without much success.
AU (13-8) had a 28-20 advantage with 3 1/2 minutes left in the half, but Navy netted the next 10 points to take the lead before Fernando Aunon ended the drought at 1:17 of the second half.
The game was tied six times before Maurer's short jumper put Navy ahead to stay at 54-52.
At 58-57, Darnell Swinton and Romaine exchanged shoves, with Swinton assessed two personal fouls and Romaine one. Romaine, the only shooter, made both free throws.
AU was able to pull within two on a couple of times but Navy free throws widened the gap. The Midshipmen finished with 31 of 37.