When Navy basketball coach Don DeVoe chose to play an extra game to gain the home-court advantage in the Patriot League tournament, he was hoping the package would include the strong vocal support of the brigade of Midshipmen.
But in Navy's opening-round victory over rival Army and its semifinal ouster of Bucknell this past weekend, the brigade was conspicuous by its absence, with only several dozen scattered throughout Alumni Hall. On Sunday, Bucknell fans seemingly accounted for 80 percent of the disappointing crowd of 2,240.
This disparity was not lost on DeVoe, who said he hopes the crowd makeup will change markedly this afternoon when his Mids (18-10, 10-2) play Lafayette (19-8, 10-2) for the conference title and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
"I felt we should have every advantage playing at home, but where were the students the last two games?" DeVoe asked. "If we're not going to get support from the student body when we're winning, what would happen in a mediocre year?
"We've got a chance now to showcase a championship game on national television. The students make up a big part of the atmosphere. The town people have been great, but we need the students, too."
Navy brass say it was just a case of "miscommunication." A rumor had filtered through the Annapolis campus that dress blue uniforms would be required to attend the tournament.
"That was not the case at all," said Capt. Mike Brady, Academy public affairs officer. Commandant [Gary] Roughead addressed the brigade before the tournament and let it be known they could wear their spirit gear [informal dress] to the games. And that is still in effect."
In any case, the Midshipmen shunned the games for other social activities, but appear more interested in attending the tournament final.
Deputy athletic director Capt. Perry Martini said close to 400 student tickets had been sold by Tuesday. There was also a report that Lafayette was considering canceling afternoon classes so its students could follow the Leopards.
Oh yes, the game.
The Leopards are riding a 10-game winning streak, including a 66-65 victory over Navy in Annapolis on Feb. 11. They have a balanced offense, featuring the inside game of 6-foot-11 junior center Stefan Ciosici (16.9 points, 7.9 rebounds), the conference's player of the year; the slashing play of sophomore forward Brian Ehlers (15.0); and the effective three-point shooting of junior forward Dave Klaus and freshman point guard Tim Bieg, who hit five three-pointers in the 83-77 semifinal victory over Colgate.
DeVoe said he plans to attack and defend Ciosici by committee. Josh Williams, a 6-11 junior with shot-blocking ability, will draw the opening assignment with backup support from senior forward Matt Sladky and rugged sophomore Sitapha Savane.
Navy also plans to apply almost full-court pressure against Bieg, who committed seven turnovers against Colgate. Junior guard Skip Victor, the Mids' premier stopper, will spearhead the defense.
Offensively, the Mids have been an enigma. Their two top scorers, Michael Heary (13.4) and Hassan Booker (12.3), have been non-factors in the first two tournament games. Victor, freshman Eric Williams and unsung senior Ryan Lookabill, who scored a career-high 16 against Bucknell, have filled the void.
"The keys will be keeping them off the offensive boards, especially Booker, and making sure we protect the ball," said Lafayette coach Fran O'Hanlon. "But right now, we're as ready as we can be."
Patriot men's tournament
Saturday's first round
Navy 79, Army 52
Bucknell 60, Holy Cross 56
Colgate 84, Lehigh 83
Navy 80, Bucknell 61
Lafayette 83, Colgate 77
Lafayette at Navy, 4 p.m., ESPN2
Pub Date: 3/05/98