The Naval Academy basketball team humored American University for exactly one half last night, then put the Eagles away as expected with a few artful jumpers and ugly slam dunks. The end result was a 97-68 Colonial Athletic Association victory at Fort Myer that was as lopsided as the score would indicate.
Navy led by just eight at the half, 39-31, as American took a stab at playing some defense, managing to hold center David Robinson and forward Vernon Butler to four and one points each before a suddenly intrigued crowd of 2,275. But the Midshipmen proceeded to lead by as many as 31 points in the second half as Robinson finished with 17 points and 13 rebounds and Butler totaled 11 points and 11 rebounds.
"It was hard to sustain," American Coach Ed Tapscott said of the Eagles' first-half performance. "They're just very balanced. You shut down some of their guys, and pretty soon other ones come along."
Butler's rebounding performance made him the first Navy player to have 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in his career. He has 1,669 points and 1,007 rebounds and is 19 points away from breaking the Navy scoring record set by Kevin Sinnett from 1975-79. He also tied the record for most games played at the Academy, with 109.
Frank Ross led all scorers with 25 points for American (7-8, 1-4), but it was not nearly enough against Navy's variety of scoring weapons. Chuck West added 15 and reserve Pat Witting 13 for the Eagles.
The final score marked the most points American has given up all season. It also broke a seven-game winning streak at Fort Myer that dated back to last season.
All five starters finished in double figures for Navy (12-3, 5-0). Guards Kylor Whitaker and Doug Wojcik had 16 and 14 points, respectively, and freshman forward Nate Bailey had 11 points and seven rebounds.
Robinson, the sensational 6-11 junior center, added six blocked shots before he fouled out with 7:13 left. American was the first team all year to manage to get him out of the game.
"It was too little too late," Tapscott said. "By then we were down by 25 with seven minutes left."
Navy opened the second half by outscoring the Eagles, 16-4, to amass a 20-point lead. Robinson had three of his blocks over that span, during which American managed only jumpers from Ross and West.
Ross had missed a layup with 18:29 left that could have pulled the Eagles to within six, making a steal and driving the length of the court, only to rush it and watch the ball roll off the rim. Robinson turned it into a jam on the other end, and the Midshipmen were off and running.
They scattered the points around, Butler making a three-point play, Bailey and Whitaker hitting jumpers and Robinson adding another jam. Wojcik's two free throws with 15:32 to go gave them the 20-point lead, 55-35, and the Midshipmen kept rolling from there.
Navy wasted a 15-point margin on two different occasions before American made it 39-31 at the half. The Eagles threw some surprisingly good zone defense at the Midshipmen, packing the middle and shutting down Robinson and Butler. The Midshipmen relied instead on the shooting of Wojcik and Whitaker, who had 10 and 14 points, respectively, in the half.
"Whitaker and Wojcik really kept us in it without our big guns," Navy Coach Paul Evans said. "They (the Eagles) were packing it in, sagging real well. David and Vernon weren't putting in their shots."
American did not start well, however, a forerunner of things to come. The Eagles did not hit a field goal until 13:45 remained in the period as Navy took a 12-1 lead.