Navy's regular-season-ending win over Army on Saturday was like November's home-opening win over Mount St. Mary's a high-scoring, crowd-pleasing rout.
But there were only five wins between those two games and a 2-12 record in Colonial Athletic Association play. And that's why Navy (7-20), seeded last in the CAA, will face top-seeded James Madison (19-8) in today's conference tournament opener in Richmond, Va.
Navy played tough against Lefty Driesell's Dukes on Jan. 23 in Annapolis, losing to the defending regular-season champions, 81-80. But on Feb. 19 in Harrisonburg, Va., the Midshipmen suffered their second-worst defeat of the season, 106-86.
"I thought they were two radically different games," said Navy coach Pete Herrmann. "We played them real tough at home, and they played us that way down there. They whipped us pretty good the second time, but I think our style surprised them a little here."
The style is Navy's fast-breaking,three-point offense and pressure defense installed by Herrmann this season that worked so well in the 116-98, home-opening win over Mount St. Mary's and Saturday's 99-78 win over Army. Navy led the CAA in scoring (84 points per game) and went over 100 points four times. Navy had done that only six times in the 1980s, with the last 100-point game before this year a 108-63 win over Delaware in the 17th game of the 1985-86 season.
The Midshipmen also allowed a league-leading 88.9 points per game, as opponents shot 50.5 percent from the field. Still, 11 of Navy's losses were by nine points or fewer, with four by three points or fewer.
"For us, it's the only way to play," said Herrmann, who removed the the methodical offense that resulted in a 5-23 record last year. "It leads players to hard work, and it lends a player to have optimism because we are in a lot of games."
That's what Herrmann wants against James Madison ` keep the game close so maybe Navy's chaotic style can produce a win.
"The key is to limit their inside game and limit their easy baskets," Herrmann said. "They have quite a few guys who can pound it inside. Everybody knows that Steve Hood [the likely CAA Player of the Year] will get his."
Key players for Navy in limiting the Dukes' inside play will be center Nick Marusich and forwards Eddie Reddick and Sam Cook. Marusich (7.9 points per game, 8.3 rebounds) has improved, but the 6-foot-9 player must stay out of foul trouble (he's had seven disqualifications). The same holds true for senior Reddick, who has struggled.
"[Reddick] had a good game in theloss at James Madison [23 points, 10 rebounds], and it was good to see him aggressive inside and scoring," Herrmann said. "We'll need that from him and Nick. Sam has to play aggressive because when he's passive, he tends to have trouble because he's not very strong."