Navy pushes Lehigh to OT before falling in DeVoe farewell

62-60 loss to top seed caps frustrating season

College Basketball

March 07, 2004|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

UPPER MARLBORO - After 900 games, let others offer the lyrical when describing their feelings after coaching a team for the final time. Don DeVoe - whose Navy men's basketball team lost in overtime to top-seeded Lehigh, 62-60, in the first round in the Patriot League tournament yesterday - went for the plain-spoken.

"I was pretty happy to get off the floor today," he said, retiring after 31 seasons with a 512-389 record, including a 184-161 mark in 12 seasons at Navy. "Sometimes, you realize you don't have it today."

Strangely enough, the last-place Midshipmen (5-23) almost did, and if there's a reason for DeVoe to be wistful, that was it. Holding league Player of the Year Austen Rowland in check and the Mountain Hawks (18-10) to 35 percent shooting, Navy nearly became the first team to sink the No. 1 seed in the first round.

But despite 22 points and 10 rebounds from Laramie Megerson, the Mids couldn't overcome their troubles at handling the basketball and converting free throws. The team turned the ball over 27 times and missed 15 of 28 free throws. Both demons visited the team in the final minute of overtime, when a narrow lead went down the tubes.

Up 60-58 after a free throw by Lehigh's Jose Olivero with 39 seconds left, Navy lost the ball twice in the following 10 seconds. The second was the more painful of the two, with Olivero and Nick Monserez collapsing on Navy's Mike Higgins, who believed he was fouled. Officials called a jump ball with the possession arrow favoring Lehigh.

"No one grabbed the ball," Higgins said. "They barely touched it."

The Mountain Hawks converted, with Rowland knocking down a three-pointer to go ahead 61-60 with 22.7 seconds left.

But the Midshipman had two chances at the end. The first came when Lehigh's Mitch Gilfillan fouled Taj Mathews, who missed both free throws. Then down two points after Monserez's free throw, Chika Onyekanne's 15-foot attempt to tie the game from the right wing was blocked by Earl Nurse.

"I thought my team put forth a tremendous effort," said DeVoe, whose team also got 10 points from Jeff Charles and 11 rebounds from Onyekanne. "But in the end, our record reflected a lot of gaps."

Lehigh was patiently waiting to benefit from Navy's deficiencies, on a day when the Mountain Hawks hoped for a sharp outing after ending their regular season with two straight losses.

Even as the Mids gave up 12 first-half turnovers, they still took a nine-point lead and went into halftime with a 28-21 lead. When Lehigh thought the game had turned its way with a 16-2 run to begin the second half - taking a 37-30 lead on a Kyle Neptune lay-in at the 13:34 mark - Navy stayed in contact and eventually took the lead on a basket by Mergerson less than six minutes later.

With three seconds left in regulation and down 51-50, Charles could have won the game for the Mids. But Charles missed the second of two free throws.

"The team we played before isn't the same team we saw today," said Rowland, who finished with 17 points, while Jason Mgebroff led his team with 19 points.

Mgebroff had the same observations of differences in the Navy team, as opposed to the team Lehigh beat 80-61 and 66-38 during the regular season. Similar to yesterday, the team came back from an 18-point deficit against Colgate on Feb. 20, only to fall a point short.

Despite the worst season for the school since 1989-90, DeVoe took heart in those signs of growth.

"It's a miserable record," DeVoe said. "But it wasn't a miserable team."

LEHIGH-Nurse 2-8 3-4 7, Tempest 1-2 1-2 3, Mgebroff 8-9 3-5 19, Rowland 5-15 5-6 17, Olivero 3-15 2-6 8, Neptune 1-3 0-0 2, Monserez 0-2 1-2 1, Tiah 0-1 2-2 2, Gilfillan 0-0 0-0 0, Mickelson 0-2 2-2 2, Fischman 0-0 1-2 1. Totals 20-57 20-31 62. NAVY-Fannin 2-3 4-8 8, Onyekanne 4-11 1-2 9, Mergerson 9-16 4-9 22, Hooper 0-2 0-0 0, Mathews 2-7 1-4 7, Fernandez 0-1 0-0 0, Charles 3-3 3-4 10, Higgins 2-5 0-0 4, Baldwin 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 22-50 13-28 60. Half-Navy, 28-21. 3-point goals-Lehigh 2-14 (Rowland 2-5, Olivero 0-7, Neptune 0-2). Navy 3-7 (Hooper 0-1, Mathews 2-5, Charles 1-1). Rebounds-Lehigh 46 (Nurse 9), Navy 37 (Onyekanne 11). Assists-Lehigh 6 (Olivero 3), Navy 10 (Mathews 4), Turnovers-Lehigh 24, Navy 27. Fouled out- Mergerson, Neptune, Mickelson. Total fouls-Lehigh 28, Navy 20. A- N/A.

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