ANNAPOLIS -- Opponents had been shooting nearly 53 percent from the field against the Navy basketball team this season, and the result was predictable for the Midshipmen: a struggle for victories.
But last night at Alumni Hall, the Midshipmen applied an effective defensive blanket to Drexel and rode a free-throw surge to an 84-71 victory before 1,204 spectators.
The Dragons made 10 of 31 first-half shots while falling behind by 10 at intermission and never got closer than six the rest of the way.
Meanwhile, Navy hit 13 consecutive free throws and finished 33-for-37 from the line to end a two-game Drexel winning streak.
"We've been practicing a lot [from the line]," said Navy center Nick Marusich, who had a game-high 21 points. "The last game we won against Bradley was on free throws, and tonight the same thing kept us in it."
The pivotal point in the game came when the Dragons had pulled within 66-60 with 5 minutes, 29 seconds to play. Navy couldn't inbound the ball on the next play, and Wes Cooper was called for a five-second violation, giving Drexel the ball with a chance to cut the lead to three.
But freshman Mark Majick stole Drexel's pass on the next play and Victor Mickel converted a layup at the other end. A minute later, Navy had scored four more unanswered points for a 72-60 bulge, and the Dragons were never a threat again.
"We had good defense the second half when we needed it, especially out of Vic," said Navy coach Pete Herrmann. "Majick made a big play, and Vic did the job on [Michael] Thompson.
"This is the first time we've been in an extended situation with our press offense. We advanced the ball and made our free throws."
Navy had not played a home game in almost a month (Dec. 8), so it was imperative to get off to a good start in this game. The team had been at the Rainbow Classic in Hawaii with a stop-off to play the University of San Diego and went 1-3 on the trip.
"I don't know if we called this home," said Marusich. "We've been in so many gyms the last few weeks, we had to get used to being familiar with this place."
It wasn't a problem. With Marusich scoring almost at will inside and the three-point shooters connecting well, Navy was never behind by more than three points and took the lead to stay at 22-20 on a three-pointer by Majick.
"Win or lose, we had to play well," said Marusich. "The X's and O's didn't really matter, but we had to come out mentally ready."
Then, the free-throw shooting applied the icing, as Navy grabbed some momentum heading into its Patriot League opener Saturday against Bucknell.
"Teams had been shooting the ball too well against us and we had been giving up too many easy ones," said Herrmann. "And the teams in the league are scoring a lot of points. That wasn't a good combination."
Mickel had a career-high 16 points for Navy, which was upset by Drexel, 83-80, the last time these teams played Jan. 23, 1987, at the Palestra in Philadelphia. The Midshipmen were 17th ranked nationally at the time and had a center named David Robinson.