When David Robinson went to Navy's bench with his fourth personal foul with 16:30 left in the first game of the Cotton States Classic basketball tournament at Atlanta's Omni tonight, it appeared the Midshipmen were headed into Saturday's consolation game.
At the time of Robinson's departure, De Paul led, 44-38. And while Navy's leading scorer sat and watched, that lead became 13 (56-43) with 9:11 left.
But as methodically as the Midshipmen fell behind, they were as swift in coming back. Behind the play of Robinson and Vernon Butler, a 6-foot-7, 245-pound forward, Navy rallied to defeat the 20th-ranked Blue Demons, 67-64.
Butler, who ended up with a game-high 23 points, provided the margin of victory for Navy by scoring its last eight points, including a field goal that tied the game at 62 with 2:28 left. His two free throws with 37 seconds remaining put the Midshipmen ahead for good, and sent them into the championship game against Georgia Tech, which routed Texas, 90-55.
"We just hung in there in the second half. I thought we were extremely tough," said Navy Coach Paul Evans, whose team is 7-2.
Robinson, who scored 17 points, got 16 rebounds and blocked five shots, almost was the goat. The senior center missed five straight free throws after the game was tied at 62. But Butler bailed him out.
"That's the way it is for us. David and I play down low," said Butler, who also had nine rebounds, his average. "If he's not clicking, then I am. It works that way sometimes."
Robinson was definitely a factor, however. It was his intimidating presence that contributed to De Paul making just three field goals in the last nine minutes.
"That's one thing about the military," Robinson said. "You're always trying to fight back from something. If it's not grades, it's some officer on your back, or a weekend pass that's been taken away. It's always something, and it helps in a game like this."
For De Paul Coach Joey Meyer, who did not start his leading scorer, Dallas Comegys because the junior was late for a team meeting, the loss was his team's third in a row.
"We just stopped playing in the last five minutes," said Meyer of his team, which is 7-3. "We just tried to hang on instead of being aggressive. They kept coming and we got tentative . . . "