Navy turned a seemingly comfortable 21-point lead in the second half into a suspenseful free-throw shooting contest before putting away New Hampshire, 89-81, at Alumni Hall in Annapolis last night.
The Midshipmen boosted their record to 4-1, their best start since David Robinson held court here in the 1986-87 season. But they did it the hard way, failing to score a field goal after junior guard Terrell Hickmon hit a jump shot with 3: 03 left.
The Wildcats (1-3) kept fouling to stop the clock, and the Mids played into their hands by making only four of their next 12 free throws.
A layup by freshman guard Carmen Maciariello pulled the visitors within 81-75 with 61 seconds to go, but they could draw no closer.
Reserve guard Aaron Smith converted five of six free throws in the last 38 seconds to seal the victory before a crowd of 1,165.
Junior swing man Michael Heary, who struggled with his shooting last season, appeared to regain his touch, leading Navy with a game-high 24 points and eight rebounds. He also set an example for his teammates by hitting nine of 10 free throws.
"I put a lot of time in during the off-season because I felt I let myself and the team down last year," Heary said. "I made a commitment to do a better job shooting and rebounding.
"Last year, I thought I had to get my shot off quick because we had trouble putting points on the board. Now I feel I'll get my shots out of the offense because Seth Schuknecht and Hassan Booker give us more options up front."
Heary's three-pointer made it 62-41 with 12 minutes left, and a boost from reserves Hickmon (nine points) and Matt Sladky (14) kept the Mids in front 77-61 before the offense stalled.
"It was a long, ugly game," conceded Navy coach Don DeVoe. "We lost our focus, missed all those free throws, and the more we missed, it added to their momentum."
Junior guard Carlos Bradberry and Maciariello sparked the comeback that ended when Bradberry missed a driving shot with 43 seconds remaining.
DeVoe gambled in the first half by going with a small lineup, with Schuknecht, at 6 feet 6, his tallest player, against the Wildcats' front line that boasted 6-11 Ken Rassi and 6-7 Matt Acres.
But the Mids out-hustled the Wildcats on the boards and finished the game with a 35-31 rebounding edge.
Pub Date: 12/04/96