Paul Evans wasn't the least bit hesitant about offending David Robinson, his 7-foot star, at halftime today.
With a measly two points and four rebounds to Robinson's credit at halftime, the Navy coach asked if Robinson had seen Maryland's Len Bias against North Carolina Thursday night. "Now, that's how an all-America is supposed to play," Evans said.
An embarrassed and angry Robinson scored 21 points after intermission, including seven points in overtime that enabled the 17th-ranked Midshipmen to avert an upset here and beat Army, 55-52.
Robinson made one free throw, which tied the game, 44-44, with two seconds left in regulation. But he missed the second one, the one that could have given Navy the victory without going into overtime.
Still, after Army (9-16) took a 50-47 lead in overtime, Robinson scored six of Navy's next eight points and helped the Midshipmen (23-4) to their seventh straight victory over Army, ninth straight overall and 16th in 17 games going into Tuesday's home game for first place in the Colonial Athletic Association against Richmond.
Strangely enough, Navy took the lead for good, 51-50, in overtime on one of Robinson's few misses from the field. (He made eight of 11 shots from the field for the game.)
With the Midshipmen trailing by one, his inside shot rolled off the rim. But the ball bounced to Cliff Rees, who had made two of nine shots.
Rees wasted no time in putting it up for the score with 2:04 left in overtime. Army's Kevin Houston had scored a team-high 20 but missed a couple of long jumpers over the last two minutes, and Navy avoided a giant upset.
It might be hard for some to figure how Navy could struggle today, having beaten the Cadets by 30 earlier this season in Japan.
But Evans expected it. After recalling the air balls his team shot -- one on a free throw attempt by Robinson -- Evans shook his head and said, "Our guys go out there with white faces, scared to death . . . . I hate this game. The Army game makes you work harder than any of the 26 other games."
Army made Navy work. The Cadets put two men on Robinson, "everywhere he went," Army forward Ron Steptoe said. "And we wanted to control the game, not let them get us into a running contest like they wanted to."
It worked. And Navy played along. Evans saw a lot of work going out the window with 30 percent shooting in the first half. And what made Evans even more upset was that Army had outhustled the Midshipmen en route to a 24-17 halftime lead.
"Hell, we haven't shot 30 percent in a half since the second year I was here," Evans said. "I told David, 'At least you can play defense. At least you can rebound.' He didn't do anything the first half."
Evans also had a talk with his other players. In a game like this one, Evans explained, when the opponent is running the clock down to 10 seconds before shooting on almost every possession, mistakes are magnified.
He wanted three players taking the shots -- Robinson, senior forward Vernon Butler, or senior guard Kylor Whitaker. "Those were the only three guys who could bring us back."
As it turned out, it was Robinson who brought them back. He had touched the ball only three times the first half on offense. He made one field goal, had a dunk nullified by a foul, and missed a shot.
The Army defenders were ruthless, as evidenced by a busted lip Robinson tended after the game. "Actually, there was more holding than hitting," Robinson said, smiling.
"Coach Evans was right, though. He really did get on me. I wasn't hitting back, I really wasn't doing much of anything. I knew I can play with Len Bias. It makes me mad when he says something like that. I'm bigger than Len is, too."
Robinson, who totaled 23 points and 11 rebounds, smiled again, in midsentence. "I guess Evans is really good at getting you motivated."
Robinson scored the first six points for Navy in the second half. And when Carl Liebert hit a basket with 15:05 to play, the Midshipmen were ahead, 27-26.
But Army, pushed on by a wildly vocal sellout crowd of 3,517, kept making shots. The Cadets call Houston, "The Best Player You Probably Never Heard Of." No need for the word "probably."
But Houston can play. "He's great," Evans said. With Navy players all in his face, Houston, a 6-footer, would change the release of his shot and hit the jumper.
Just as effective, at times, was Steptoe, who went to St. John's College High School in Washington, D.C., scoring 10 points, including a 17-footer that put Army ahead, 38-35, with 5:44 to play.
Thereafter, Navy showed why it is ranked in the top 20. As often as possible, the Midshipmen got the ball to Robinson. Two Cadets fouled out trying to guard him. And when it was sometimes difficult to see Robinson because so many Cadets surrounded him, Whitaker and Rees hit consecutive shots late in regulation to keep Navy going.
"I wouldn't change a bit of our game plan," Army Coach Les Wothke said. "Robinson's a great player. In the last five minutes, he's still 7-feet tall and still a great player. They're a helluva team. But they also beat a helluva team."