Green's defense puts Navy in league final

March 06, 1995|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Sun Staff Writer

WEST POINT, N.Y. -- If ever a stellar defensive performance in basketball warranted the awarding of a game ball, Naval Academy sophomore Michael Green would have one today.

Green's "belly-up" defense against Army scoring leader Mark Leuking triggered the Midshipmen's front-running 70-59 victory over the Cadets and helped them earn their second straight trip to the Patriot League final.

The defending champions will play Colgate, a 75-68 winner over Fordham, for the title Friday afternoon in Hamilton, N.Y.

Leuking, averaging 24.9 points to rank 11th in the country and coming off a tournament-tying 43-point effort against Bucknell in the quarterfinals Saturday, did not score from the field until only 3:42 remained when he made a three-pointer. The junior guard, known for his lighting-quick jumper, made only two of 10 shots to finish with nine points, one less than Michael Green's career-high 10.

Green, a rangy 6-foot-4 Californian who played the pivot in high school, was on the jayvee Navy team almost all last season. But this year he has become Navy coach Don DeVoe's defensive stopper. In previous games, he has stymied Holy Cross star Rob Feaster and Colgate's Tucker Neale, both potent scorers.

Last night, he hardly allowed Leuking a good look at the basket.

"Truthfully, I told my assistant coaches that I had a premonition that this game would belong to Michael Green. And he did the job on both ends of the floor,"

Said Green, "I just tried to keep Leuking out of the middle and force him baseline. But he runs off five or six picks on every play. My teammates did a great job of rotating and covering for me."

While Green was shutting down Leuking, 5-foot-8 sophomore point guard Brian Walker was holding the Cadets' other principal offensive threat, Alex Morris, to nine points before he hit two meaningless threes in the final 90 seconds.

Those defensive efforts silenced the pro-Army crowd, who watched their team lose to their arch-rivals for the eighth straight time.

Navy (20-8) has now won 10 straight since losing to Lehigh on Jan. 28. It also gave the Mids their first 20-win season since David Robinson led the 1986-87 team to a 26-6 mark.

"When we lost to Lehigh at home, that was the low point of our season," said DeVoe. "We said we weren't going to let that happen again, and one of our guys wrote on our blackboard, '21-8.' And now, incredibly, we're only one victory from that goal."

Despite the hostile environment, Navy jumped out to a 28-11 advantage in the first 12 minutes and never relinquished the lead.

But things turned a trifle sticky early in the second half when senior forward Wes Cooper, the team captain and leading rebounder, fouled out with 18:07 remaining and Navy leading, 40-29.

Cooper argued vociferously after being charged with his fourth foul on a blocking call. A technical was tagged on for Cooper's fifth and final foul.

"We were fortunate to pull through it with Cooper gone," said DeVoe. "You have to keep your poise in that situation, and he lost it."

Army coach Dino Gaudio saw this as the pivotal moment in the game.

"With the technicals and possession, we had a chance to make six points," he said. "But we only got three out of all of it.

"Give Navy credit, though. They did a great defensive job, and we didn't get the ball to our low post players when Leuking and Morris were covered."

The Cadets (12-16) made several short rallies, cutting the deficit to eight, 44-36, with 14 minutes left. But almost every time Army made a run, Walker (who scored a career-high 16 points) responded with a pressure basket or converted from the foul line.

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