Cool hand of Lucas gives Navy OT victory Unheralded sophomore helps top Air Force, 89-87

November 26, 1995|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,SUN STAFF

Navy basketball coach Don DeVoe said he would need a strong offensive contribution from several of his 10 sophomores to come close to duplicating last season's 20-9 record.

DeVoe mostly had returnees Brian Heary, Greg Stephens and Hassan Booker in mind when he made that statement. He could not have anticipated the immediate impact Eddie Lucas would make in his varsity debut, leading Navy to a thrilling 89-87 overtime victory against Air Force in the season opener yesterday at Alumni Hall in Annapolis.

"Cool Hand Luke," a smooth-shooting 6-foot-6 forward from Redlands, Calif., played only a single minute with the varsity last year.

Left short-handed up front by a foot injury to Booker, DeVoe turned to Lucas, who came off the bench to score 22 points and grab six offensive rebounds in 25 minutes.

His biggest shot came with 10 seconds left in regulation, when he swished a three-pointer to force overtime.

"I was real confident it was going in," said Lucas. "I've really been working hard on my shooting and waiting for an opportunity to play."

This seesaw struggle was not settled until the end of overtime. Senior forward Jim Hamilton made a layup to give Navy an 88-87 lead with nine seconds left. The Falcons hurried downcourt, but sophomore guard Jarmica Reese's baseline shot rolled around the rim and out. With one second left, Reggie Minton Jr., son of the Air Force coach, fouled Hamilton, who made one of two free throws.

Stephens than intercepted Air Force's inbounds pass at

half-court and the small crowd of 1,736 -- most of the Brigade is on holiday -- wildly applauded the effort.

Navy supporters did not anticipate such a dogfight from Air Force, which lost its top two scorers from a team that finished 8-20.

But the Midshipmen looked out of sync most of the game, shooting 44 percent (31-for-71) from the field and 54 percent (22-for-41) from the foul line.

Heary, last year's freshman standout, and Stephens, who has pushed junior Brian Walker for the starting point guard job, combined to shoot 3-for-20 from the field. Heary made 87.5 percent of his free throws last season, but hit only three of six in a shaky opener.

The clutch shooting of Lucas and Walker (15 points) and the physical play of 6-10 senior center Alex Kohnen (10 points, 13 rebounds) saved the Midshipmen on a day when their only real advantage was on the boards, 47-30.

"We practiced all week expecting them to use a zone like they did against us last year," said DeVoe. "But they really came after us with a man-to-man and challenged us to the hilt."

After rallying from 10 points down (31-21) to gain a 36-35 halftime lead, Navy again turned frigid from the field. Air Force used the inside scoring of sophomore forward Michael Freeman (21 points) and the three-point accuracy of Reese (16 points) to forge ahead 75-70 with 3:15 left in regulation.

The Mids closed to 77-76, on a layup by Walker, a follow-up by Lucas and Stephens' two free throws. But Freeman scored uncontested underneath on an out-of-bounds play to give Air Force a three-point lead with 42 seconds left.

Navy then had three shots at tying the game. Heary and Hamilton missed before Lucas nailed his long-distance try.

"We knew about him," said Minton. "Heck, we tried to recruit him out of prep school."

"Give 'Luke' all the credit," said DeVoe. "He wasn't ready last year, but he forced his way on the team this season."

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