Led by the long-range shooting of sophomore Jim Hamilton and the floor leadership of freshman Brian Walker, Navy overcame a 15-point deficit in the second half to stun Holy Cross, 83-81, at Alumni Hall last night.
It was the biggest win for veteran coach Don DeVoe since taking over the Navy program last season.
"You can't measure how big this victory was for this team," DeVoe said. "We went almost whole year at home without winning a Patriot League game."
It took a number of clutch plays in the closing minutes for the Midshipmen (7-10, 2-3) to beat the Crusaders (6-9, 2-4), the defending conference champions who had won 10 of the previous 11 games with Navy.
After a layup by Hamilton (a career-high 29 points, seven three-
pointers) tied it at 78, Holy Cross reclaimed the lead, 81-78, on a free throw and baseline drive by senior center John Young (25).
But Walker pulled the Mids within a point by converting two free throws with 1:22 left.
Holy Cross junior forward Rob Feaster, who came into the game as the nation's third-leading scorer (27.3 ppg) missed a 10-footer, and Navy controlled the rebound. Walker worked the ball inside to forward Wes Cooper, who missed, but center Larry Green tipped home the rebound to put Navy on top again, 82-80, with 36 seconds remaining.
Crusaders guard Ted Bettencourt missed a jumper, and then fouled Walker, who made one of two free throws, giving Holy Cross a chance to tie or win with five seconds left.
"We figured they'd try to get the ball to Feaster," DeVoe said. "He's their big gun." DeVoe was on the money, but Feaster's pull-up jumper in the lane was off the mark. Young managed to tap the ball at the buzzer, but it proved his only miss after going 9-for-9 and set off a celebration by the crowd of 1,573.
"Walker was the catalyst for us all night," DeVoe said of the fleet 5-foot-8 plebe from Marion, Ind., who was making his third straight start.
"He made the great passes down the stretch, a couple of key steals and hit three clutch free throws," DeVoe said.
Walker was rated one of the top 40 players in Indiana his senior year at Marion High. "All their guys were talking a lot of trash to me, saying I was too small and too weak," he said. "I like playing against guys who talk junk. It makes me that much more determined."
Since Walker moved into the starting lineup last week against Lafayette, the Mids have won two of three games, including a road victory over Bucknell last Saturday.
"With Brian out there," Hamilton said, "we really pushed the ball up the floor."
But the Crusaders, who lost a 71-56 lead, had more trouble stopping the streak-shooting Hamilton.
The native of Erie, Pa., made 7 of 11 three-point shots, including several from NBA range. In all, Hamilton made 10 of 15 shots.
"Holy Cross played a zone early in the game, and after I hit two threes, I just felt comfortable, and they kept dropping," Hamilton said.