Navy flattens Fordham, eyes title

February 27, 1994|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,Sun Staff Writer

For the first time since David Robinson towered above the Colonial Athletic Association in 1987, Navy's basketball team is positioned to win a regular-season conference title.

All the Midshipmen have to do is their favorite thing: Beat Army.

They ensured that situation yesterday by blowing away Fordham in the second half at Alumni Hall en route to a 73-42 victory that prevented the Rams from clinching the Patriot League crown.

If Navy (13-12, 8-5) wins at Army tomorrow night in the makeup of a game snowed out Jan. 8, it would secure the top seed for the conference tournament, which begins Friday at Annapolis.

"It would be a real landmark for us to be the top seed," said Navy coach Don DeVoe, whose team crushed Army, 71-47, earlier this month. "We were in last place after a week and a half and moving all the way up would be truly remarkable.

"To me, these kids are just getting the rewards of staying with it. We're not doing anything different. It's just a case of them staying focused."

The top two defensive teams in the Patriot League played a gritty first half, which ended with Navy leading 22-21.

That pattern continued into the early moments of the second period before the Midshipmen left Fordham (12-14, 9-5) in their wake.

Navy's players described the next 13 minutes as a "feeding frenzy." One good thing led to another. By the time the Rams recovered, Navy had outscored them 38-5 to take a 66-32 lead.

"We fed off each other's energy this time," said Navy center Alex Kohnen, who equaled his career high with 17 rebounds and also scored 11 points.

"We really turned it up and didn't let up. We didn't celebrate after we got ahead."

Senior captain Victor Mickel said defense was the accent in practice and the defense was superb throughout, collecting 16 steals, forcing 24 Fordham turnovers and holding the Rams to 32.6 percent shooting from the field.

"The first game [an 84-72 Fordham win] we didn't play defense at all, so everybody knew we had to get that done coming into the game," Mickel said.

"When we started scoring off steals and getting T. J. [Hall] going, everybody just picked it up. Everybody feeds off T. J."

Hall, Navy's top scorer, poured in 16 of his 20 points in the second half, helping the team shoot 60 percent.

"I was getting a little concerned because we didn't score much the first couple of minutes of the second half," said DeVoe. "But we got a couple of breakaways and that really made a difference. From then on, it became a real one-sided game."

Fordham coach Nick Macarchuk put it succinctly: "They just kicked the heck out of us. I doubt that there was ever a game for first place in any league that was so decisive for one team."

Macarchuk credited the Midshipmen defense for his team's inability "to complete the most fundamental pass" or "get good looks at the basket. We didn't get any. They understood the importance of the game and they were ready."

The victory was Navy's sixth in the past seven games and ninth in 12 since freshman Brian Walker became the point guard.

It was the first time the Midshipmen have beaten Fordham since 1988, halting a streak of nine consecutive losses in the series.

DeVoe said one reason for the surge is good fortune. "We haven't had a key player go down with injury or illness," said the coach, "and now we're not struggling to get the ball up the floor because of Brian Walker.

"I can see some things falling into place here. Now, we've got a monumental game coming up."

Army won't be a pushover, especially not at West Point where it has won its past two games.

But Navy is on a roll. "It would be outrageous to expect us to win by 31 points every time," said Kohnen. "Last year, Coach DeVoe knew we had potential, but we didn't have the maturity.

"Now, we have grown up. We've always had the feeling we could win and be in this position."

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