Navy proved it could beat a good basketball team without much production from all-America David Robinson tonight, but the Midshipmen didn't find much else to be happy about in their 73-62 victory over Ohio University in the opening round of the Carrier Classic before a Carrier Dome crowd of 23,764.
Thanks much to muscular forward Vernon Butler's 29 points, which matched his career high, and 14 rebounds, the Midshipmen (4-1) will face fourth-ranked Syracuse (4-0) for the championship Saturday at 9 p.m. The Orangemen beat La Salle, 97-72, tonight.
"What do you figure, we set the game back 20 years or 25?" said Navy Coach Paul Evans, so upset he closed the locker room to the press. "We just couldn't get into our running. We rely a lot on David and he was complaining of shortness of breath. He didn't do anything."
The 6-foot-11 Robinson did break Jeff Ruland's tournament record with 16 rebounds against the smaller Bobcats, but scored only 12 points on five-of-10 shooting from the floor.
Evans said his star had complained of a similar breathing problem during Navy's exhibition win over the Greek national team three weeks ago, but doctors told him there were no lasting problems.
Getting effective outside shooting, especially by guard Robert Tatum (16 points), Ohio (2-1) led, 52-47, with 10 minutes left -- then went scoreless for six minutes. And Butler carried Navy back, scoring six points in less than three minutes to put the Midshipmen ahead to stay, 53-52, with 6:54 remaining.
"Butler basically dominated inside," Ohio Coach Danny Nee said.
While Tatum and David Jamerson started misfiring on jump shots, Navy kept coming offensively. Doug Wojcik hit Carl Liebert with a bullet pass for an easy layup, and after a free throw by Cliff Rees, Robinson swished a short jumper to put the Midhsipmen on top, 58-52, with 4:02 to play.
Ohio's Robert Smith missed yet another 20-footer and Butler, Robinson and Liebert quickly followed with successive layups.
Rafael Addison's 23 points led Syracuse past La Salle (3-2).
"Syracuse is one of the top two teams in the country along with North Carolina," said Evans. " . . . You can bet we'll have a lot of work to do tomorrow morning."