Two things were obvious in Navy's 80-55 rout of Richmond today. Midshipman forward Vernon Butler overcame his personal slump against the Spiders, and Richmond could not function optimally without point guard Greg Beckwith.
With the victory, Navy (15-3) gained sole possession of first place in the ECAC South with an 8-1 record. Richmond (11-6), which had won seven straight, all against conference opponents, fell to 7-2.
In three previous games against Richmond, Butler had a total of 14 points and 14 rebounds. Today, he had 24 points, 13 rebounds and two blocked shots.
"It was undoubtedly the best game I've had (against Richmond)," said Butler. "They always shut us off inside. Lately I've been more confident with my shot around the basket. It's more of a psychological thing (against Richmond). I just have to go out and play ball."
Beckwith made two early jumpers from the top of the key but picked up his second foul with 13:12 left in the first half when he slapped David Robinson, who was shooting from the lane. Robinson made the shot and the free throw, giving Navy a 15-13 lead.
In the next minute, Robinson had two blocked shots, one rebound and a basket as the Midshipmen went ahead, 19-13. Richmond ran off eight straight points to tie the game at 23.
With 18:17 left in the second half, Beckwith got his fourth foul, a foolish reach-in on Carl Liebert, and went to the bench with his team trailing, 37-33.
Richmond Coach Dick Tarrant shifted Kelvin Johnson to point guard. Johnson, conference player of the week last week with 72 points in three games and averaging 16.3 points before today, is most effective from the wing. The DeMatha graduate finished with 13 points against the Midshipmen on five-of-13 shooting.
"It was a big key when Beckwith got his fourth foul," said Navy Coach Paul Evans. "He's so unselfish and so good at getting the ball to the shooters."
With Beckwith out, Navy outscored Richmond, 11-4, to go ahead by 48-37. Sensing a blowout, Tarrant reinserted Beckwith, who promptly fouled out with 11:30 to play. Navy then scored 11 straight points, the last two on a layup by Liebert on a nice feed from Kylor Whitaker, to take a 59-37 lead and effectively put the game out of reach.
"Another key was stopping (center Pete) Woolfolk," Evans said. "He's only 6-5, but they've been playing teams without a good inside game. We felt it might be a little different with David (Robinson) out there."
A little. Robinson, Navy's 6-11 center who scored 19 points and had nine rebounds, blocked three of Woolfolk's shots and forced the freshman into two-of-13 shooting. Woolfolk had been averaging 10.1 points per game.
"I believe he was a little intimidated," Robinson said. "He didn't take many shots after the first half. I think we neutralized him."
"Pete has never seen that kind of defense," said Tarrant. "I thought we did the right thing by taking it inside, but he (Robinson) had some terrific blocks."
Navy, which has won 11 of its last 12 games, the only loss coming to George Mason here Thursday, received unexpected help from Liebert. The sophomore had seven points and 12 rebounds.