For the first 10 minutes last night, the Navy and American basketball teams refused to let the other take much of a lead. It was fitting considering what was at stake at Alumni Hall -- the fourth seed and a guaranteed home game to open the Patriot League tournament.
But for the second straight time, American wore down the Midshipmen and went on to a 71-60 victory to clinch a first-round home game in the league tournament.
The Eagles (14-13, 6-7 Patriot League) started taking control during the latter part of the first half, going on a 13-5 run to build a nine-point lead at the intermission. The roll continued early in the second half, as American pushed the lead to as much as 18 behind an 11-1 run over the first five minutes.
Navy cut the deficit to nine points with a little more than three minutes left, but the Eagles restored their double-digit margin with two free throws by Arvydas Eitutavicius with just more than two minutes left. American hit 10 of its final 12 free throws.
"I was proud of the way our guys responded in an important game, under some pressure on an opponent's court," American Coach Jeff Jones said. "Getting the home-court advantage, that's something we've talked about and something we've been shooting for."
American won its third straight game and completed a season sweep of the Midshipmen (14-15, 4-9), who would have needed a victory against the Eagles and then at Colgate to stay alive in the chase for the fourth seed in the tournament.
Linas Lekavicius led three Eagles in double figures with 12 points on 6 of 7 shooting. Lekavicius, who entered averaging just 5.5 points, helped American take control by driving to the basket, which freed up teammates on the perimeter.
"That was a very important game for us, I just wanted to come out as aggressive as possible," Lekavicius said. "I don't think I did anything different. I just wanted to be aggressive on offense."
The Midshipmen shot 33 percent, going 19 of 57, though their shooting percentage lingered in the high 20s for most of the second half.
"We wasted offensive possessions tonight," Navy Coach Billy Lange said.
Navy forward Greg Sprink, the team's leading scorer, scored a team-high 23 points despite a bad ankle. Sprink was a game-time decision after he rolled his left ankle during practice on Monday. He took a cortisone shot before tip-off and seemed to get stronger as the game went along, scoring 21 points in the second half.
"Once the game got started, after the first few possessions, my ankle felt good," Sprink said.
American also caught some breaks. Five times during the game, the Eagles came within a second of a shot-clock violation. All five times, buzzer-beating shot attempts went through the hoop.
"That's good for us," Jones said. "It makes them expend energy defensively and it's also deflating for a team, if you work that hard and that long during a possession and the offense still scores."