Navy blitzes Army, 92-73

12-0 start launches Mids to semifinals vs. Bucknell

March 04, 2001|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

The mere sight of an Army team was sufficient to prevent Navy from suffering another case of the first-game blahs yesterday at Alumni Hall.

Concerned that two of his previous Navy teams had failed as No. 2 seeds in the 11 a.m. opener of the Patriot League men's basketball tournament, coach Don DeVoe practiced the squad hard during the week leading up to the game.

The results showed immediately as the Midshipmen came out with fire in their eyes and a romp on their minds, scoring the first 12 points en route to a 92-73 victory that propelled them into today's semifinals against sixth-seeded Bucknell, which eliminated Colgate, 75-68, in yesterday's second game.

Ferocious Navy defense keyed by the early shotblocking of center Mike Cunningham and a blanket defense thrown on Chris Spatola, the league's leading scorer, by John Williams, Navy was unstoppable in the first half, restricting the Black Knights to 14.3 percent shooting (4-for-28) while zooming into a 23-point lead.

While it suffered its third loss of the season to its archrival, Army (9-19) never pulled closer than 15 points the rest of the game.

"Hopefully, we'll have an early wakeup call," DeVoe had said earlier in the week and he received his wish with dividends.

Navy swarmed all over Spatola, who was 0-for-8 in the first half and scored all six of his points from the foul line, interceded in the passing lanes and totally disrupted the Black Knights' offense, which had come alive in consecutive regular-season victories over top-seeded Holy Cross and non-league Stony Brook.

Spatola finished with a game-high 24 points, but he more than earned them. "I was off a little," he said. "But they [Navy] had a lot to do with it. John Williams was following me around a lot. All eight of those shots were well defended, well contested. I didn't get a lot of good open looks."

"Navy took Chris out of the game at times. They allowed the person they wanted to shoot to shoot," Army coach Pat Harris said. "They played with great intensity, had 28 rebounds and their team defense was very, very good. We knew right away with had a tough game on our hands. I think this is the Navy team that everyone expected to win the Patriot League at the beginning of the year."

The leading Navy scorer, Chris Williams, wasn't exactly lighting up the scoreboard on the offensive end although DeVoe said his defense was a major force in shutting down the Black Knights.

In his stead, point guard Demond Shepard had a career-high 17 points and led the team in scoring for the first time, John Williams chipped in a season-high 15 points, the ever-improving Francis Ebong had 13 points and nine rebounds and captain Robert Reeder furnished 12 points and seven rebounds.

Navy is now 8-0 in tournament games at Alumni Hall and has beaten the Black Knights 12 straight times.

"They played us pretty tough twice," Ebong said. "We didn't play a very sound defense in those games, so we keyed on their best players."

"Our defense was truly sensational in the first half," saluted DeVoe. "I can't remember a Navy team blocking as many shots in 20 minutes [seven, four by Cunningham]."

"When you see [7-footer] Mike Cunningham getting out into the passing lane, stealing the ball and going down for a fast-break dunk, you can't help but get excited," John Williams said. "We wanted this game really bad."

NOTES: The league announced that the 2002 tournament will be held at Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro.

"This is a first-class facility that has all the amenities to accommodate the needs of an NCAA Division I basketball tournament," league executive director Carolyn Schlie Femovich said. "The proximity of the Show Place Arena to American [University] and Navy and the opportunity to locate our tournament in the Washington D.C./Baltimore metro area was a strong attraction."

Chris Williams was the only Navy player named to the all-Patriot League first team, becoming the only Midshipman to make the all-league first team three times.

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