Navy rules second half, Air Force in 71-53 win

Mids win first of year, third in row over Falcons

3-pointers make difference

November 25, 2001|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

Air Force has had a hammerlock on the football series with service rival Navy, but, on the basketball court, the Midshipmen are doing the pinning.

In its home opener yesterday, Navy clamped on the defense in the second half, hit four consecutive three-pointers and pulled away for its third straight victory over the Falcons, 71-53.

An Alumni Hall crowd of 2,259 watched Jehiel Lewis sink two threes and Kyle Barker and Jamie Nero add one apiece to break open a close game and give the Midshipmen (1-2) their first victory after two defeats on a trip to Texas.

"We had a real nice run of perimeter shots that opened the game up," said Navy coach Don DeVoe. "It was so important to get this one after the last couple in which we didn't shoot well and the opposition got to the free-throw line so much."

Air Force's backdoor cuts and subsequent layups gave the Midshipmen trouble early, and the Falcons hung in the game, trailing 35-33 at the half after a gift three-pointer by Robert Todd after Navy's Jeff Charles (Meade) made a blindside save of a ball going out of bounds and passed to Todd.

But the Falcons weren't to hang around much longer. Francis Ebong accounted for Navy's first three points of the second half with free throws before Charles finger-rolled a basket to build the lead to 40-35.

Then came the run of long-range baskets as the Midshipmen opened the spread to 54-38 and maintained it with their defense. Air Force (2-2) shot 31.6 percent in the second half, including 12.5 percent from long range (1-for-8).

"If you want to win on the road, you have to be tougher than they are," said Air Force coach Joe Scott. "In their own buildings, teams play in a certain manner, so you have to be a 40-minute team. We're a very good 30-minute team."

Air Force closed the margin to 10 on three occasions, before the Midshipmen scored the final eight points to make it look like a runaway.

"We saw the backdoors in the first half, but we were a step slow," said Lewis, who amassed 13 points to tie Ebong for team high. "We realized what they were going to do, but we didn't stop them. Then we adjusted."

Lewis made every shot he attempted (four from the field, three from the line) and said he couldn't remember when he had done that in any game.

"Playing inside out opened up a lot of the outside," said Barker, who joined Jason Jeanpierre with 11 points each. "The shots started to fall."

DeVoe said defending the Air Force offense is difficult with a man-to-man defense and that "they got the cuts they wanted in the beginning. It took us awhile to adjust."

Navy also throttled Falcons forward Joel Gerlach, who was held to seven points after averaging 19 in the first three games while hitting 18 of 20 attempts.

The Midshipmen are 84-12 in the past seven years when they score at least 70 points.

"I wanted to hold them to the 50s and for us to get to 80, so we did a pretty good job," DeVoe said. "I was impressed again with our free-throw shooting [18-for-21 and 46-for-57 for the season], but this victory was hard-earned. The score is a little misleading."

Navy returns home tomorrow night to play an Ohio University team opening its season. "They're an unknown with no games played and a new coach," DeVoe said. "We'll have to be ready for whatever they bring."

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