ANNAPOLIS, JAN. 6 -- Shorthanded in the middle of a season that doesn't promise to make anyone forget a certain San Antonio Spur-to-be, Navy could be forgiven for becoming single-minded on offense. The Midshipmen took that attitude to the extreme tonight as Byron Hopkins was the go-to man for seven minutes and Cliff Rees nearly the entire offense thereafter, but it worked as the Midshipmen beat Lafayette, 70-53, to win their second consecutive game for the first time this season.
The Midshipmen (3-6) used a 9-0 burst midway through the second half to take a 16-point lead and coast. Strangely, Rees scored only four points on the decisive run -- strange because he had 16 of Navy's 18 second-half points to that time. In all, he scored a career-high 30, including five three-pointers, on 11 of 20 shooting and had 22 of Navy's 39 points in the second half.
"We had a lot to overcome tonight," he said. "You look around, and this wasn't the lineup we expected to have on the floor when the year started. It's just a credit to all the young guys who are coming through."
The Midshipmen lost forward Derric Turner, who had arthroscopic surgery on his dislocated knee last night, in Monday's victory over The Citadel. Freshman center Darren Morningstar remains on suspension by the Academy, with Coach Pete Herrmann only willing to offer that the situation will be reviewed by week's end.
So the void certainly exists for Rees, the captain and only senior, to fill. He scored the Midshipmen's first 13 points of the second half after shooting three for 11 as Navy scratched out a 41-37 lead at the intermission. "I was forcing too much in the first half," he said. "Even without Derric, I have to make sure my role doesn't change and I don't try to do too much. Byron was scoring inside early and that should've opened things up for me, but I didn't get going until I relaxed later."
Indeed, it looked early on as if Hopkins would be the one to take up the slack. Navy jumped in front quickly behind his inspired inside play at both ends. He scored eight of Navy's first 15 points on inside power moves, and three times blocked forward Otis Ellis.
"That was the key, getting Byron going early," Herrmann said. "We thought we could dump it inside against their zone and get Cliff free for his jumpers, but if we hadn't converted early inside they would've shut down Cliff."
Not all of Ellis' inside craftiness ended in Hopkins' rejections. Ellis, who entered the game averaging 17.1 points and 7.3 rebounds, provided three three-point plays in the first 11 minutes with a variety of hanging, double-clutch moves in the lane.