Lafayette sinks Navy, 87-61

Host Leopards roll in Patriot final, deny Mids spot in NCAAs

March 11, 2000|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

EASTON, Pa. -- The NCAA's Patriot League spot belongs to the Leopards.

Lafayette College left little doubt about its worthiness yesterday, controlling Navy from the beginning to win the conference championship with an 87-61 victory before 4,021 rowdy spectators at the Allan P. Kirby Center.

The Midshipmen (23-6) were never in the game after Lafayette spurted to a quick 13-2 advantage and continued a trend of final-game domination by the homecourt team. Only once (in 1993, the first year) has a visiting club managed to win a Patriot title since the tourney format has given the higher-seeded team the site advantage.

During the opening five minutes, nothing went right for Navy, which missed its first seven shots -- including three attempts in the paint by all-league center Sitapha Savane -- committed three turnovers and generally self-destructed.

The situation only worsened.

Jason Jeanpierre, who had come off the bench to furnish what little first-half offense Navy could muster, re-injured his right foot just before halftime and left the game for good. Robert Reeder, one of the team's leading inside players, accumulated three fouls in the first nine minutes and departed to the bench while the Leopards eased ahead by 15 points.

Early in the second half, another Navy starter, John Williams, suffered a cut to his head and retired to the dressing room to receive at least eight stitches. There would be no comeback.

"I was able to get the shots I usually get, but I missed the first four or five and that set the tone for the afternoon," said Savane, who finished with a sub-par 10 points and four rebounds.

"They packed that zone in and we weren't able to get anything going inside," added all-league forward Chris Williams, who went 1-for-8 from the field and had nine points. "Us not being able to get Sitapha untracked early affected us the whole game. We couldn't get the first part of our offense underway and I couldn't get anything to fall."

While Navy saluted Lafayette (24-6) for playing an intense, determined game, coach Don DeVoe took a shot at the Patriot League, saying, "This game was won as much in the boardroom as it was on the hardwood. We were both 11-1 [in the league] and they played three games on their home court."

A last-minute switch gave the team with the higher Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) the choice of a first-round bye or the home court for the final. Lafayette inched ahead of Navy in the ratings before the tournament and took the home-court choice. In the ratings after the semifinals last week, Navy had regained the RPI lead.

"Lafayette just pounded us into oblivion," said DeVoe. "They were very aggressive, knocked down shots and kept beating us to the loose balls. I can't think of one phase they didn't beat us in. Other than Wake Forest [a 90-55 loss in December], this is probably the one game where we never got a handle on how to play."

But, said DeVoe, the trip was Navy's third to the Lehigh Valley since Feb. 23 and he stressed that it is time for the league to secure an eighth member and find a neutral site for postseason play.

He was not counting on a call from the National Invitation Tournament after two of his previous 20-game winners at Navy were snubbed.

"I don't think 23 victories is going to help us. I don't think it's fair, but it's the way it works. This league has a low power rating and we don't draw very many fans," DeVoe said. "After today, we ought to pack it in anyway."

Lafayette scored its school-record 24th victory, including 16 in the past 17 games, and became the third Patriot League team to win consecutive men's titles. The Leopards lost to Miami (Fla.), 75-54, in the first round of the NCAAs at Boston last March.

The Midshipmen had a 13-game winning streak ended and dropped only their third game in the past 26 after opening the season with three straight defeats.

Five Leopards scored in double figures with Patriot Player of the Year Brian Ehlers leading the charge with 19 points and 10 rebounds. Center Stefan Ciosici, hero of a semifinal victory over rival Lehigh, had 13 points and seven rebounds and was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player.

Savane and Chris Williams also were named to the all-tournament team with Leopards guards Tim Bieg and Tyson Whitfield.

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