Navy forward Vernon Butler scored 19 points and center David Robinson 18 to lead the Midshipmen over East Carolina, 76-66, in an ECAC South game before 1,825 tonight at Halsey Fieldhouse.
The victory, the Midshipmen's 20th against four losses (11-2 in the ECAC South), made them 20-game winners for the second consecutive season -- something that had never been accomplished by a service academy basketball team.
"I feel very proud," said Kylor Whitaker, who finished with 10 points and 10 assists. "Coach (Paul) Evans was saying before the game that it would be the first time ever. It's a source of personal pride.
"It's nice to see a team that's a 'good' school in the public's eye win 20 games."
The Midshipmen led by 24 with 11:13 remaining. In David Robinson's absence (he suffered a minor cut on the hand with approximately seven minutes left), East Carolina (6-17, 0-11) trimmed the lead to 67-60 with 2:40 remaining. But a Navy victory was never in doubt.
Navy built a 14-point halftime lead, 34-20, its largest to that point, by holding the Pirates without a basket during the final 4:36 of the half. In addition to an impressive scoring and rebounding effort (17), Robinson, who is playing in only his third season of organized basketball, put in a fine defensive effort. The 6-foot-11 sophomore center from Woodbridge, Va., blocked four shots and had three steals from his wing position in the Navy zone.
On one of his steals, Robinson dribbled the length of the court and scored on a layup.
"I think he can be a great defensive post player," said East Carolina Coach Charlie Harrison. "When you are seven feet tall and you have good basketball instincts, quick feet and basketball IQ, you have all the ingredients."
Navy took its largest lead, 56-32, with 11:13 remaining in the game when Butler consecutively hit a free throw, a field goal and a three-point play.
But approximately four minutes later, the Pirates started chipping into the lead. Guard Curt Vanderhorst had 14 of his game-high 26 points in the second half and forward William Grady had 18 of his 24, mostly on long-range jump shots.
In a season that has offered few positive moments for the Pirates, Vanderhorst spoke only of Robinson's play.
"He's like a (Jon) Koncak (of SMU)," said Vanderhorst. "When you know he's there, you tend to alter your shot or do something out of the ordinary."
With Navy firmly in control throughout, Evans was able to employ some of his reserves. "It was a nice opportunity for us to use some of the people who don't usually get a chance to play," he said.