Navy ships out, but Terps remain afloat Missouri pulls away in 2nd half for 76-53 victory

March 18, 1994|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,Sun Staff Writer

OGDEN, Utah -- Navy entered last night's NCAA tournament first-round game as the No. 16 seed in the West Regional, representing a little-known conference that offers no scholarships. Still, going against the fifth-ranked team in the country couldn't rob the team of its dreams.

"We [felt like we] could make history," Navy coach Don DeVoe said of the fact that a top seed has never lost to a 16th seed. "We wanted to win the basketball game."

For 33 minutes -- a lot more time than most could have imagined -- the Midshipmen were able to hang with Missouri and frustrate the first team since 1971 to finish a Big Eight regular season undefeated. But the size and quickness of the Tigers proved to be too much, and Missouri ran away with a 76-53 win before 12,126 at the Dee Events Center.

As the final minutes ticked down, there were smiles and laughs on the sideline of the Tigers, who improved to 26-3 and advanced to the second round against Wisconsin, which beat Cincinnati, 80-72.

But there was no such behavior in the first half, when Missouri coach Norm Stewart became so frustrated with his team's poor play that he yanked his five starters.

"You could tell that they were frustrated," said Navy guard Jim Hamilton, who scored 14 points. "I guess their coach just wanted to calm them down a little."

Had Navy shooters been on the mark, who knows what else Stewart would have done? Navy took a season-high 33 three-point attempts, making just seven. Many rimmed out, leading the Midshipmen to wonder: What if?

"If they had been falling for us, it would have been a different story," said Hamilton, who made four of 15 from beyond the arc. "Had we hit a lot of our shots in the first half, we would have been up."

But Navy hit just 34.5 percent of its shots in the first half, in which it led by as much as 18-13 after a layup by Hamilton with 8:57 left. While shooting poorly, Navy's defense bottled up a Missouri offense that averaged 79.2 points a game. Missouri shot just 36.0 percent in the half.

In one of the most bizarre moves you're going to see in an NCAA tournament game, Stewart yanked his five starters after center Jevon Crudup hit two free throws with 5:50 left to pull Missouri within 20-19.

In their place came five reserves with a combined scoring average of 8.6. Junior forward Marlo Finner was the highest scorer on the court with a 2.9 average, but he had never scored over nine points in any of his 19 games this season.

"I assured them that we have confidence in them," Stewart said he told his starters after sitting them. "We put the subs in to give the starters time to sit back and take a look and then get back in the game."

Navy was not able to capitalize, hitting just one of seven shots the rest of the half. Meanwhile, Finner was providing a spark by hitting two three pointers -- he had one all season -- and adding a free throw for seven points.

Finner's first three-pointer with 3:46 left gave Missouri its first lead since the early going, and when Jim Walther -- who hadn't scored since the 14th game of the season -- hit a free throw Missouri had its biggest lead of the half, 29-24. The lead was 29-26 at halftime.

"I thought that group that came in in the first half was the difference in the game," Stewart said. "They came in and gave us a lift."

Still, the Tigers were unable to put the game away until the final minutes. Navy was hurt by a stretch of nine minutes from late in the first half to early second half in which it didn't score a field goal.

Still, a three-pointer by T. J. Hall with 4:13 left had Navy within 57-49, but the Tigers closed the game with a 19-4 run for the win.

Navy got just 10 points from its starting front line, much of that ineffectivness because of Crudup. After seven points and one rebound in the first half, Crudup finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds. All three of his blocks came in the second half.

"Crudup made all the difference inside because he's so athletic," DeVoe said. "I thought he was as big a factor as anybody."

It also helped that All-America guard Melvin Booker woke up, scoring 14 of his 17 points in the second half.

"We're very happy to win," Stewart said. "To get the opener out of the way is tough, hard."

It's harder when playing a team such as Navy, which came close despite having its poorest three-point shooting game. A 41.6 percent team this season, Navy hit just 21.2 percent (the previous low was 29.4 percent against Holy Cross).

"We really shot the ball poorly," DeVoe said. "I can't remember a game where we shot so poorly."

Said Hall: "Usually we have a good three-point-shooting squad. I think they scouted me well because we couldn't execute for a while."

Regardless, it was a rewarding experience for the Midshipmen, making their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1987.

"This has been a great basketball season for this Navy team," DeVoe said. "I can't tell you of how proud I am of this Navy team and what we've accomplished this year."

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