With eye on title, top seed, Navy plays host to Lafayette tonight

Mids, on 6-game roll, hope to avenge only league loss

February 09, 2000|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

The Navy men's basketball season reaches its first peak tonight at Alumni Hall.

With the regular-season title in the Patriot League and the postseason tournament's No. 1 seeding almost certainly at stake, the red-hot Midshipmen play host to conference-leading Lafayette, hoping to atone for their lone league loss and set up a furious race to the finish.

Navy, 6-1 in the league, will be risking a six-game winning streak against 6-0 Lafayette, the defending league champion and preseason favorite to repeat. The Leopards are the only team to beat the Midshipmen since Dec. 23.

Likely to be on the line is a first-round tournament bye, a fact not lost on Navy coach Don DeVoe.

"That is very, very important," said DeVoe, "because you only have to play one game in Easton [Pa.], and then you can play the championship at home."

The game that decides the league representative for the NCAA tournament is at the site of the higher-seeded team after the earlier rounds are played at Lafayette's Kirby Center.

A victory would give Navy an advantage for the remainder of February because the Leopards still must visit third-place Bucknell, a team they barely beat at home, 75-73. The Midshipmen have swept Bucknell after last Saturday's 75-61 win at home.

The Midshipmen do not appear any more ready than now with center Sitapha Savane on an offensive roll and their crunching defense at its most effective level.

Excluding the game at Colgate, where Savane was still bothered by a sprained ankle he turned in the previous start, he has scored between 16 and 27 points seven consecutive times and has provided an intimidating defensive presence with his shot-blocking skills.

No doubt he is the straw that makes Navy stir.

"Playing a team like Bucknell last made us realize what kind of level we need to reach for Lafayette," said Savane. "That game got us prepared."

Bucknell coach Pat Flanney said the Lafayette-Navy matchup provides "a clash of interesting styles. Lafayette spreads out the floor and runs, and Navy shoves it down your throat and runs. Lafayette is as deep on the bench and will match up well with Navy. But it makes a big difference where you play."

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