Navy played Howard for the first time yesterday afternoon. It was the Midshipmen's first appearance in the BB&T Classic. It came against Howard's first-year coach, Gil Jackson, who was coaching his first career game in the District.
The most important first, though, came when Navy finally earned its first victory of the season, an 82-73 decision at MCI Center that ended the Midshipmen's season-opening four-game losing streak.
After committing 17 turnovers in the opening 20 minutes and trailing by nine at halftime, the Midshipmen emerged from the locker room a different team. They hit five of their first six shots in the second half. They made five consecutive three-point attempts. They kept Howard (0-4) scoreless for more than five minutes. And they started the half with a 16-0 run to take a lead that they did not relinquish.
"We weren't playing tough," senior David Hooper said. "We had to prove something to ourselves."
Navy's win came despite 30 turnovers, and it required late heroics from Hooper and fellow guard Greg Sprink. Howard twice drew within two points late in the second half; the first time Sprink hit a jumper, the second time he converted a three-point play. And when the margin was three in the final minute, Sprink dribbled out of trouble and found Hooper (Gar-Field) for a three-pointer that essentially ended the game.
That result brought another heartbreak for Howard -- which has lost 21 straight -- and for Jackson, who is searching for his first win. In the season opener against Iona, the Bison led by 12 in the second half but lost by 12.
"We've got to learn how to play two halves; we talked about that at halftime and we didn't get it done," Jackson said. "When a run comes, I think we kind of panic, and I think that's what happened."
The game tipped off in front of perhaps 200 fans, who braved the snow and the 4 p.m. starting time.
Neither team appeared particularly thrilled to be in the building, either. Howard's first eight possessions yielded four turnovers, an offensive foul, two missed shots, one successful layup and a total of two points. Navy failed to score on its first five possessions. The teams combined for 18 turnovers in the first 10 minutes.
The Midshipmen were without leading scorer Corey Johnson, who will have surgery today for a torn meniscus in his left knee. Johnson, Navy's starting point guard, will miss at least six weeks and possibly the rest of the season, Coach Billy Lange said. Johnson was replaced by freshman Clif Colbert, one of three freshmen in the starting lineup; Colbert led Navy (1-4) with 16 points.
Howard lost sophomore ballhandler Jeron Smith to a back injury late in the first half. Junior forward Darryl Hudson led the Bison with 19 points and seven rebounds.
Williams Wants New Format
After Maryland's loss to George Washington, Coach Gary Williams made it clear that he has no interest in participating in a similarly all-local event in the future.
"It's not supposed to be a local tournament," he said. "It's supposed to be George Washington and ourselves playing outside teams, and that's what it has to be in the future."
Next year's BB&T Classic will again involve out-of-area teams, but it isn't likely to revert to the four-team, two-day format that was used in the previous 10 events.
And that, in turn, is unhappy news for George Washington Coach Karl Hobbs, who has heard criticism over the Colonials' nonconference schedule. Hobbs said his program has a right to play home games early in the season but has had trouble luring major-conference teams to Smith Center, which is why two games in the District against prestigious BB&T fields were so attractive.
"Without getting those two extra games against top teams it really hurts us because scheduling wise it's extremely difficult, it's extremely difficult to get those teams to come in here and play us," he said last week. "The BB&T has really aided us in a big, big way, so when I see Coach Gary Williams I've got to shake his hand and thank him dearly."
Event organizers have an oral commitment from Notre Dame for next year's event, and plan to contact several other major conference programs, including Texas.
Strong Start for Colonials
The Colonials have now beaten Maryland twice in a row and four times in their past six meetings. They are 5-0 for the first time since 1992, when they last advanced to the NCAA tournament round of 16.