Mids clinch bid to NCAA tourney with Patriot title Navy in, Coppin out, Morgan carries on

March 12, 1994|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,Sun Staff Writer

Navy completed its basketball comeback story yesterday, leading almost all the way to defeat Colgate, 78-76, for the Patriot League tournament championship.

A record Alumni Hall crowd of 4,360 and a national television audience watched the Midshipmen earn an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1987, when David Robinson and company were finishing a three-year run of the most successful basketball in academy history.

The victory was the seventh straight for Navy (17-12), which was 5-10 at midseason and apparently headed for another dismal record. In the six seasons after Robinson graduated, the Midshipmen were 45-123 with no tournament wins.

"I've never seen a team turn around and win a championship like this one has," coach Don DeVoe said. "This beats all."

The free-throw line became Navy's biggest ally in a game in which the Red Raiders made a late run, but couldn't get over the wall.

The Midshipmen hit 30 of 48 foul shots, including 24 of 36 during a second half that included only six Navy field goals. Colgate, the nation's most accurate free-throw-shooting team, was seven 10 from the line.

Colgate coach Jack Bruen acknowledged the disparity, but seemed particularly upset about the four baskets that were denied his team because the officials ruled fouls had been committed before his players had completed drives to easy scores.

"It gets a little frustrating when our guys are taking the ball to the basket time after time and there is no call," Bruen said.

"And we'd score, and no basket was ruled."

Still, the Red Raiders overcame all that to capture their first lead since it was 13-12 when Hasan Brown drove to a layup after his steal, producing a 65-64 edge with 4:46 remaining in the game.

Two free throws by freshman Brian Walker quickly regained the advantage for Navy, but Colgate stayed within range until tournament MVP T. J. Hall produced two plays that crushed the Red Raiders' comeback.

With Navy ahead 69-67, Hall made a three-point jumper with 1:31 left, then he stole the ball from Colgate star Tucker Neale and laid it in to stretch the Navy lead to 74-67.

Colgate (17-12) narrowed the final margin with five points in the ,, last 12 seconds.

"The three-pointer [by Hall] was the key," said DeVoe, who is taking a team to the NCAA tournament for the eighth time in 21 seasons. "That really opened it up, and they then have to bring the ball up and tend to lose focus."

Five Navy players scored in double figures with Hall leading the pack with 21 points. Forward Wes Cooper had another fine game with 12 points and five rebounds and made the all-tournament team, as did Walker (10 points, six assists).

Cooper, a junior, said: "When I first came there was a lot of negativity [surrounding basketball]. We had been losing for a long time. But this year we decided to have a positive attitude, and we're beating people because we're playing as a team."

L "This is a team that truly represents the Navy," said DeVoe.

"We don't have a star. We're just get-after-them guys who have a cause."

Forward Michael Green replaced captain Vic Mickel -- who was on administrative suspension by the academy and did not play in the tournament -- in the starting lineup because DeVoe didn't want to fiddle with his substitution patterns.

Green did a strong defensive job on Neale, the Patriot Player of the Year, in the first half, and Neale went on to a 1-for-10 day from three-point range.

The victory was the seventh straight for Navy, which is 12-3 since Walker became the starting point guard.

"Their balance was able to kind of wear us down," said Bruen, who drew a second-half technical for flashing the choke sign to an official.

"It seemed like we were climbing uphill all game. They played a terrific, aggressive defense," Bruen said. "But I thought the officials had a terrible day.

"I wish they had watched the game as closely as they watched the sidelines."

8, Colgate never has made the NCAA tourney.

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