Navy Coach Paul Evans will tell you that Vernon Butler is the second-best big man in the ECAC South. Today, the 6-foot-7 power forward scored 24 points and got 13 rebounds as the Midshipmen defeated conference opponent William and Mary, 84-60, before 4,725 at Halsey Field House.
Butler's 12th rebound of the game made him the academy's all-time leader in that category, with 799.
"I just respect the way he works so hard," said William and Mary Coach Barry Parkhill, whose team dropped to 11-9 (5-4 in the league) as Navy improved to 19-5 and 10-2. "I'd just love to have a kid like him. He doesn't say anything. He just bangs and he shoots with a nice touch."
Butler scored nine points during a five-minute stretch midway through the second half when Navy center David Robinson, the ECAC South's best big man, was on the bench with four fouls.
"That seems to happen with this team," said Parkhill. "You know when one guy is out, certainly the other guy is going to be more noticeable. They both killed us in the first half."
"It was a combination of things," said Butler. "Whether David is in or out, I know I have to post up hard. But when he's out, I realize they're going to start going to me more. And that's when we run the reversal play and the duck-in move and that's what I'm strongest at."
Robinson, who led all scorers with 31 points, had 22 in the first half as Navy built a 38-21 lead. When Robinson wasn't sinking soft jumpers from the left side of the key, he was playing catch with swing man Kylor Whitaker, who had eight points at the half and finished with 20 on seven-of-11 shooting from the field.
In the second half, Butler carried the load as William and Mary collapsed on Robinson.
"In the first half, I think they were more concerned with Butler after he played so well down there (Butler led Navy with 20 points in the teams' first meeting this year)," said Evans. "And that left David singled up a lot of the time, especially when we reversed the ball to him. And he had a phenomenal shooting half."
Robinson hit seven of his first nine field goal attempts and was 11 for 14 at the half. He finished 14 of 20 from the field.
William and Mary whittled Navy's comfortable halftime lead to 44-35 when Keith Cieplicki, who led the Indians with 23 points, stole the ball and hit a layup and Matt Brooks sank a free throw with 15:24 remaining.
When Robinson left the game with his fourth foul at 11:07 remaining, it appeared that William and Mary would have its best opportunity to cut into the 12-point lead. But five minutes and nine Butler points later, when Robinson returned, the Midshipmen led, 68-48.
"I don't think David's the greatest defensive player in the world," said Evans, explaining why his team increased its lead. "So I don't think we lose that much defensively.
"(Carl) Liebert or (Tony) Wells or whoever we put in is probably a little bit more mobile and plays the defense a little bit better," Evans said. "We may not 'board' quite as well, but against William and Mary we board just as well because they're kind of small."