With seven minutes to play and his Navy team fading into an unwanted spring vacation, David Robinson looked up at the Byrne Arena scoreboard and said to himself: "Somebody better take charge here because we're falling apart."
Who better to take over than the 7-foot Robinson?
He scored 10 consecutive Navy points to keep the Midshipmen within one, then hit the game-winning, point-blank bank shot with six seconds left to give Navy a 71-70 victory over Cleveland State and a shot at the Final Four.
The Midshipmen didn't get to celebrate their 16th straight victory until the Vikings' Clinton Smith missed a 25-foot jumper at the buzzer.
Navy advances to the East regional final at 2 p.m. Sunday against top-ranked, top-seeded Duke, which defeated De Paul in tonight's second semifinal, 74-67, here in the Meadowlands.
Until then, the Midshipmen can savor Robinson's 22 points, 14 rebounds and nine blocked shots, Kylor Whitaker's 23 points and 10 assists, and Vernon Butler's 16 points and late-game defensive play.
Even so, it certainly wasn't easy for Navy. After leading for the first 31 minutes, by as many as 11 points, the Midshipmen tired.
"We also did some stupid things," Robinson said. "My head wasn't into the game at all."
While Navy (30-4) was struggling, Cleveland State's Ken (Mouse) McFadden (16 points) was putting up jump shots and taking the Vikings (29-4) to a 60-55 lead with 6:57 left in the game.
Navy's discipline, which had gotten the Midshipmen many transition baskets and the big lead, broke down.
Coach Paul Evans already had told his players: "You're going to kick this thing away trying to do it your own way."
Instead of pushing the ball inside, which had worked so well, freshman Nate Bailey had missed an ill-advised jumper. The Navy guards were going for steals they couldn't make against quick players.
"We did some things we can't do and win," Evans said. "And David wasn't wanting the ball a whole lot anyway."
Boy, how that changed.
After one talk with Evans, and another with himself, Robinson forgot about the pounding he was taking from the smaller, quicker Vikings, and played to the extent he is capable.
Cliff Rees hit a 15-foot jumper to make it 60-57. Then Robinson's run started.
He hit a pair of free throws for 60-59, and countered a jumper by McFadden with two free throws for 62-61.
After Smith (16 points) made a jumper for 64-61, Navy point guard Doug Wojcik missed the front end of a one-and-one. But Robinson was fouled and hit both free throws to keep Navy within 64-63.
McFadden hit another jumper, but Robinson jammed. Cleveland State's Eric Mudd scored, but Robinson hit a bank shot for 68-67.
"I didn't know he hit 10 straight," Vikings forward Clinton Ransey said. "But I did know he was playing great. He is great. What could we do? We absolutely knew he was going to get the ball."
It was a transition basket by Butler, following a missed shot by McFadden and a rebound by Robinson, that put Navy ahead, 69-68, with 1:14 remaining.
And when Robinson drew a charging foul with 57 seconds to play that disqualified Ransey, it looked as if Navy had the game wrapped up, with the ball and a one-point lead.
But Smith, who played brilliantly, stole the ball from Wojcik at midcourt and raced down for a spinning layup that put the Vikings back on top, 70-69, with 24 seconds left.
After a timeout, Wojcik tried a lob pass to Robinson, who wound up flying out of bounds off the hip of a defender. The ball hit off the glass and came to Cleveland State's Paul Stewart with :10 showing on the clock. It looked dim for the Midshipmen.
But Butler described what happened to change the game. "He got the rebound and turned into me. There were two things to do: foul him, or try to grab the ball."
Butler went for the ball and, with eight seconds left, the officials called a held ball, with the alternate-possession arrow pointing in Navy's direction.
When someone asked if he made "contact" Butler said: "Sure, I grabbed the ball."
Cleveland State saw it differently.
"I saw two guys fouling him, that's what I saw," guard Shawn Hood said. " Stewart is a strong kid. When he rebounds he doesn't let anybody take the ball from him. I thought he protected the ball well."
Cleveland State Coach Kevin Mackey indirectly criticized the officiating. Navy's Evans said: "If this is the best we've got at this stage, we're in trouble."
After the tie-up, possession Navy, it was Cleveland State that was in trouble.
Evans called for a play where Robinson lines up on the left base line, facing the in-bounds man, who in this case was Whitaker.
Robinson, the first option, is supposed to curl into the lane. And 6-6 forward Carl Liebert, the second option, is to cut inside. The third option is for Whitaker to look for a quick jumper.
Three Vikings defenders initially surrounded Robinson. "But when I curled, nobody was within a full foot of me," he said. "I was shocked. I was incredibly open."
Whitaker's eyes widened. "I figured nobody's gonna jump as high as David," he said. "I set my mind to go to David for the high-percentage shot. I was shocked he got open that easily."
You can't get any more high-percentage than a two-foot shot at the center of the rim by a 7-foot man with exceptional athletic ability and soft touch.
Whitaker threw the ball north, and Robinson put it in.
All Navy could do thereafter was play good defense, not foul, and hope the Vikings missed.
"When I looked up at the clock, I saw two seconds left," Smith said. "I only had time to take one more dribble and put it up. I was in the NBA's three-point territory, and that's out of my range."
Nonetheless, Smith's shot from the right side was long enough, hitting the back of the rim and bounding away.
It ended a brilliant season for Cleveland State , a team few people expected to survive the first round of the NCAA tournament.
And it prolonged the season for a Navy team that now is one game away from its first appearance in the Final Four.
In the second game, De Paul, after trailing by 14 points in the second half, got three straight pull-up jumpers from freshman guard Terrence Greene and pulled within 65-59 with 3:22 left, but got no closer.
Following a missed shot by Duke's Mark Alarie (21 points), De Paul's Kevin Holmes was called for his fifth foul, and the Blue Devils' Jay Bilas hit the two free throws to make it 67-59.
The Blue Demons (18-13) held slim leads much of the first half. But Duke's Johnny Dawkins (25 points) and Alarie led the Blue Devils (35-2) to the final eight for the first time since 1978.