Army's baby-faced junior guard Mark Lueking rode into Annapolis with a reputation for being one of the top gunners in the country, averaging 26.8 points, and as the subject of several national stories.
But Lueking was overshadowed yesterday by precocious Navy plebe Michael Heary, who scored a career-high 31 points to lead the Midshipmen to an 80-74 victory before a record Alumni Hall and Patriot League crowd of 6,370.
Heary, who is being used in a sixth-man role, saved 22 points for the second half, when Navy came close to blowing a 16-point lead (52-36).
Lueking (23 points), who was hospitalized earlier in the week with a 104-degree temperature, began finding the range with his trigger-quick jumper. Lueking's fourth three-pointer made it 72-67 with 2:13 remaining. Army guard Alex Morris then stole the inbounds pass and his layup pulled the Cadets (9-6, 2-3) within three points.
But Navy (9-7, 2-3) managed the clock well in the final minutes, and sophomore playmaker Brian Walker (13 points, 7 assists) and Heary, who holed all eight of his free throws, used the foul line to keep Army from drawing any closer.
The emotional victory snapped the Mids' two-game losing streak and gave coach Don DeVoe a 6-0 record against the West Pointers since coming to Navy three years ago.
DeVoe, who was also an assistant under Bobby Knight at Army in the mid-60s, has grown accustomed to the intensity surrounding the inter-service rivalry.
But Heary's poise under pressure surprised everyone.
"We recruited Heary, and knew all about him," said second-year Army coach Dino Gaudio, who has quickly turned around the Cadets basketball program.
"But you have to give a freshman a lot of credit for performing so well in a game like this."
Heary, who converted 10 of 19 shots, has already established a reputation as an excellent long-range gunner and free throw shooter (60-65 percent). But it was his successful forays down the lane that most disturbed Gaudio.
"We just didn't make the defensive adjustments," said Gaudio. "It was the same with [Jim] Hamilton. We allowed him to burn us from the outside."
Hamilton, lightly-played since sitting out the early part of the season with academic problems, hit three of his five three-point attempts.
Heary and Hamilton's effective outside shooting opened up the middle for senior center Wes Cooper, the Mids' workhorse, who contributed 14 points and 13 rebounds.
But this special day belonged to Heary, the soft-spoken upstate New Yorker who once scored 62 points in a prep game.
With his 31 points, Heary took over the team scoring lead with 14.5 points a game.
Heary has made several starts, but insists he prefers coming off the bench to provide instant offense.
"We've got a lot of upperclassmen like Cooper, T.J. Hall and Hamilton who have paid their dues," said Heary. "I'm real comfortable with the way I'm being used."
And so, obviously, is DeVoe.
"Michael has a lot of tools, and he seems to be developing every day.
"Right now, he puts the ball on the floor as well as anyone I've coached, and that includes [at] Virginia Tech, Wyoming and Tennessee. But he's not close yet to being what he can be a few years down the road."
Speaking of the road, the Mids have managed only one win in seven away games.They are 8-1 at home.
"We've just got to find ways for us to do a better job on the road," said DeVoe, who takes his unpredictable team to the Bronx, N.Y., to play Fordham Wednesday night.