Kylor Whitaker and Todd Alexander left their usual seats far down the Navy bench today and made key second-half contributions as the Midshipmen defeated George Mason, 76-73.
Navy was trailing, 55-52, when its leading rebounder, Vernon Butler, was called for a charging foul, his fourth. Moments later, tiring sharpshooter Dave Brooks also was called for an offensive foul.
Summoned to relieve them were Whitaker, a freshman guard averaging 2.5 points who had not scored in the last three games, and Alexander, a 6-8 sophomore with a 1.3 average who last scored seven games ago.
In eight minutes today, Whitaker made two of three shots from the field, got a rebound, made a key steal and had two assists. In six minutes, Alexander made both shots from the floor, got four rebounds and stole a pass.
Their work kept the Midshipmen close enough for Rob Romaine, the hero of the victory over Army a week ago, to come through again. Romaine scored eight of his 16 points in the last 3 1/2 minutes, including two crucial free throws with 11 seconds remaining.
Romaine's jump shot from the key put Navy ahead to stay at 68-67, then Whitaker's steal set up Romaine for a fast-break basket and a three-point lead.
Following John Niehoff's jumper, the Patriots had a chance to take the lead, but Carlos Yates stepped on the base line to give Navy possession. Whitaker, making the inbounds pass, threw it to the other end, where Romaine caught up to the ball and scored.
It became 72-71 when Mason's Ricky Wilson scored from the corner with 1:30 left. At this point, Navy Coach Paul Evans sent Brooks back in, with an undesirable result. Brooks, fouled by Wilson, missed the front end of a one and one. Mason Coach Joe Harrington then decided to hold the ball for the last shot.
Brooks upset his strategy when he reached in and fouled Niehoff, who was dribbling across the key with 15 seconds left. It was the first free throw of the game for Niehoff, a 77 percent shooter, and it spun out, with Navy's Tony Wells rebounding.
Romaine, fouled by Niehoff with 11 seconds on the clock, made both free throws for a 74-71 advantage.
Yates, the game's high scorer with 20 points, followed his own miss to cut the margin back to one, but only two seconds remained. Butler, fouled by Mike Shannon before the ball could be passed in, made both shots.
"Close games have been a way of life this year," said Harrington, whose Patriots finished 3-6 in the ECAC South, losing four of those games by three points or less.
Navy, 3-3 in the ECAC South, earned the third seed for the conference tournament opening Thursday in Richmond. With a 17-10 overall mark, Navy has its most victories since 1958-59. The Midshipmen were 13-1 at Halsey Fieldhouse, losing only to Delaware, by two points.
Navy's 2-3 zone helped restrict Yates to subpar seven-for-19 shooting. His 20 points matched his second-lowest total of the season.