ANNAPOLIS -- It took 20 games and more than half a season, but the Navy basketball team finally got things clicking for the home fans yesterday.
The Midshipmen went up by 15 points at the half and built the lead to 39 in the second half on their way to an easy, 89-57, win over Colgate before a Halsey Field House crowd of 1,468.
The win was Navy's first in the Patriot League, after dropping its first eight games. It was Navy's widest margin of victory since the 14th game of the 1986-87 season, when the David Robinson-led Midshipmen defeated American, 96-60.
"It feels good," said Navy coach Pete Herrmann. "I just thought we played real good defense, and our bench gave us a big lift in the first half."
The Navy defense forced 10 Colgate turnovers in the first half and limited the Red Raiders to just nine of 31 shooting (29 percent) from the field. And Navy's bench contributed 16 first-half points, with junior reserve forward Chuck Robinson scoring all of his 11 in the first 10 minutes.
Navy was down, 16-15, when Robinson was fouled while making layup. He hit his ensuing free throw to put the Midshipmen up for good, 18-16, with 10 minutes, 32 seconds left in the half. The three-point play started a 24-8 run that gave Navy a 39-24 halftime lead.
Midway through the second half, the lead was 71-38, and the Midshipmen boosted the margin to 83-44 after two free throws by Kevin Havens with 5:31 left. By that time the game was into deep "garbage time," and all 15 Navy players scored.
Four Midshipmen scored in double figures, with John Haase leading the way with 18 (eight of 11 from the field). Navy also got big contributions from plebes Derrick Wall and Wes Cooper. Wall, forced to play center while Nick Marusich recovers from a broken cheekbone, scored 12 points and grabbed nine rebounds -- five offensive -- in 22 minutes. Cooper, making just his fourth start, grabbed eight rebounds in 16 minutes.
"I thought those guys would come along and become good players," Herrmann said of his plebes, which include starter Mark Majick. "They just keep on gaining confidence."
And, according to Herrmann, so has the entire team. Six of Navy's league losses have been by eight or fewer points. That included a 78-76 loss at Colgate on Jan. 15, when Brennan Lothery hit a jump shot in the lane to beat the Midshipmen.
"Our guys haven't been blown out by 30 and 40, and that makes a difference," Herrmann said. "The key for us is playing defense. They know they can score."
The Midshipmen have scored more than 85 points in two of their last three games, after reaching that figure just three times in their first 18. Herrmann is hoping to shape this team into the threat it was late last year, when the Midshipmen knocked off the top team in the Colonial Athletic Association tournament (Navy's previous league), and came close to playing for a berth in the NCAA tournament.
"February is a funny month -- some teams get better, some
teams take a step back," Herrmann said. "We hope we're in the category of stepping up a bit."