Navy Coach Paul Evans said recently that his Midshipmen were able to "sneak up" on opponents last basketball season, at least until January. They obviously won't have that luxury this season.

Certainly, there was no sneaking Friday night at the Civic Center in the Big Apple National Invitation Tournament. The Redmen of St. John's knew they had to contain 7-foot David Robinson, and eventually did. They also stopped Navy, 66-58.

In their first game of the season, the Midshipmen got a good indication of their strengths and weaknesses.

Navy's most obvious shortcoming Friday was shooting accuracy, both from the field and the foul line. "There's not much more to say than 50 percent from the free throw line and 30 percent from the field," Evans said.

Shooting is something Evans hopes he and his players can improve on between now and Tuesday night, when the Midshipmen return to Halsey Field House to play Westminster.

Robinson, who had 27 points and 18 rebounds, made only nine of 19 shots. But considering that he missed his first three, and was manhandled by two St. John's reserves in the second half, his floor performance was outstanding.

Navy has to have better perimeter shooting to help Robinson get free. Point guard Doug Wojcik made just two of five shots Friday, freshman guard Neil Fenton hit one of six, forward Carl Leibert missed all four of his shots and swingman Cliff Rees missed two of three.

With that kind of shooting, there is little reason for a defense to come out and check Navy. Teams will do just what St. John's did Friday: make Robinson score.

Robinson said he wasn't tired. But Walter Berry was one Redman who said he felt the Navy player grew weaker. If so, it was understandable considering Terry Bross and Marco Baldi used eight fouls hacking away at Robinson in the second half.

Probably, Robinson will see that all season.

On the other hand, Navy did enough good things to gain evidence that its preseason ranking of No. 19 was more than just hype.

The Midshipmen shut off St. John's inside game in the first half with an airtight 2-3 zone. Berry, the Big East's most accomplished inside player, made only one inside basket in the first half. Forward Willie Glass also had only one, an offensive-rebound tip-in.

What impressed St. John's Coach Lou Carnesecca was that Navy dictated the tempo of play, even in the second half when the Midshipmen were going scoreless for more than seven minutes.

And although Robinson didn't have one of his best shooting nights, Evans had to be pleased with his aggressiveness.

Robinson admits there are times during games when he suffers lapses and has to exert himself more. But Friday, from the opening tipoff (which Robinson won over Berry), Robinson called for the ball and took good shots.

"Thank God, we wore him down," Carnesecca said.