Some will say that Richmond rallied to defeat Navy, 67-61, tonight because of the defensive adjustments the Spiders made at halftime of this matchup between the best basketball teams in the Colonial Athletic Association.
Dick Tarrant, the winning coach, is not among them. "I don't know if the offenses and the defenses were the answer," he said. "The answer was the effort -- the rebounding, the loose balls, the steals. It wasn't any strategy on my part. That was just five kids who played intelligently and played hard . . . and deserved to win."
Indeed, this was a game in which the box score did not come close to telling the whole story -- the floor burns from outhustling the Midshipmen, the dozen or so loose balls to which forward Johnny Davis beat his opponent, the constant pounding that turned Navy's normally dominating David Robinson into a tentative, timid center.
Richmond students began arriving at the Robins Center at 10 a.m. today to get the best seats in their section of the packed arena, and they were not disappointed. This was a consummate team effort. Richmond's star, John Newman, scored 17 points, but, as testy Navy Coach Paul Evans so aptly put it, "We got beat by the guys that weren't supposed to beat you -- (Peter) Woolfolk, (Steven) Kratzert and (Rodney) Rice."
Those three were the keys to the victory that left Richmond 15-1 overall, 6-0 in the CAA. Woolfolk, who shared the center position with Kratzert, scored 16 points, including a short turnaround jumper in the lane that gave Richmond a 63-61 lead with 1:40 to play.
Kratzert had eight points, and thus Richmond's two centers combined for 24 points and eight rebounds, giving Richmond a standoff against Robinson (22 points, 11 rebounds, two blocked shots).
In the second half, Navy (14-4, 5-1) needed more than a standoff, because Tarrant deployed the diamond-and-one defense for the first time in his five years at Richmond. He needed it to control Kylor Whitaker, the Navy guard who made five of six shots and scored 12 points in the first half.
And Whitaker was certainly controlled. He never got off a shot in the second half, and Navy point guard Doug Wojcik, who made two of three in the first half, was one for five in the second. Rice was the man assigned to Whitaker.
Tarrant called the defense "Mickey Mouse stuff." But it was hardly Mickey Mouse the way Woolfolk, who is 6-5 1/2, and Kratzert, who is 6-8, played so aggressively against the 6-11 Robinson, both offensively and defensively.
"They were pretty physical," agreed Robinson. "Every time I moved across the lane, I got hit a couple of times . . . They (the referees) just seemed to be anti-me tonight."
Evans was perturbed afterward. From the hallway outside his locker room, it was easy to hear him screaming at his team about its inefficient rebounding. "They got the big rebounds," he said later. "They outhustled us. Our inside defense was poor."
Navy was supposed to dominate this game inside, and it did in the first half, opening a 35-23 lead, with Whitaker and Wojcik shooting a combined seven for nine and complementing the inside play of Robinson and Vernon Butler (15 points, nine rebounds).
But, in the second half, Navy switched defenses, playing a straight zone instead of the combinations that gave individual attention to Newman and Rice. That and a swarming Richmond defense, in which Davis and point guard Greg Beckwith had five steals each, made the difference.
This game was played at the pace that Richmond wanted and, in the second half, Navy had 10 turnovers in 28 possessions.
The game was in doubt until the final minute. It was tied at 61 before Woolfolk's basket. Then Navy's Nathan Bailey missed two free throws with 1:16 to play and Richmond ran almost the entire 45 seconds off the shot clock as Navy stayed back in a zone before Rice made a 22-footer from the top of the key.
Then Bailey missed another shot and Newman completed the scoring by making two free throws with 10 seconds left. The end of the game signaled the beginning of a celebration at midcourt by the Richmond players and their fans, who chanted, "NCAA, NCAA, NCAA."