Navy capitalized on a suffocating man-to-man defense in the second half and the clutch shooting of acrobatic sophomore forward Chris Williams to squeak past Bucknell, 57-53, in the Patriot League opener at Alumni Hall last night.
Trailing 52-47, Bucknell closed to 54-53 on a rebound basket by junior forward Valter Karavanic with 45 seconds remaining. Karavanic was fouled on the play, but missed a chance to tie.
Chris Williams, who scored a game-high 24 points, hit two free throws for a 56-53 lead with 22 seconds left.
After calling two timeouts, the Bison turned to Jake Ramage, who missed a three-point attempt from the left corner. Josh Williams collared the rebound and sealed it by hitting the first of two free throws with two seconds left.
"We had a good chance to win a tough road game," said Bucknell coach Pat Flannery, "but they're deeper and stronger than we are, especially with us missing [starting forward] Martin Guilliard, who had a bad ankle.
"But basically, we couldn't stop Chris Williams. He's so much quicker than anyone we had out there. He's the best we've faced this year."
The Georgia native also won the praise of Navy coach Don DeVoe.
"He's the most athletic player I've had in my seven years here," DeVoe said. "He brings a real tough mentality to the court and really goes after the ball."
Chris Williams, who seemed to make every critical basket for the Mids in the second half, said DeVoe has given him a lot of freedom in creating his own shots this season.
"Coach DeVoe told me if I see some daylight in the lane, I should take advantage of it," Williams said. "I found some room, or I dished it off to one of our big guys -- Sitapha Savane [10 points, 10 rebounds] or Josh Williams."
But it was Navy's aggressive defense that was more instrumental in turning things around in the second half, leading to 12 team steals.
The Midshipmen (12-3) struggled defensively in the first half trying to control the post-up moves of center Dan Bowen (17 points) and the quick baseline drives of Karavanic.
DeVoe turned quickly to a zone defense, trying to cut down on the fouling. The Bison played with poise and led 33-25 at halftime.
DeVoe switched back to a man defense to start the second half, but the key to the turnaround occurred when Bowen picked up his fourth personal with 17: 37 left.
Reserve forward Brian Muckle made a layup to give the visitors a 37-29 cushion, but Bucknell would not score another basket in the next seven minutes.
Conversely, Navy finally got its transition game in gear, and Chris Williams and sub forward Josh Hill ignited a 10-0 run to give Navy a 39-34 advantage.
Bucknell suffered through another seven-minute field goal drought while the Mids' lead ballooned to 52-45 with 4: 45 left before Bucknell began the late rally.
"This was vintage Navy-Bucknell," said DeVoe. "They always play us tough. We were rushing our shots in the first half, and in the second half we showed more patience trying to get the ball inside.
"Frankly, I'm surprised we're 12-3 at this point because of all the young players. But I can't call them sophomores anymore, now that these guys have played almost half a season."
Things get tougher for the Mids on Saturday when they entertain Lafayette, preseason favorites to win the Patriot League.
BUCKNELL -- Karavanic 4-14 0-1 10, Muckle 2-4 1-6 5, Wetzel 0-3 0-0 0, Bowen 6-9 5-7 17, Callahan 0-6 3-4 3, Santos 0-0 1-2 1, Bailey 1-1 1-2 3, Ramage 2-9 2-2 8, Cameron 1-4 4-4 6. Totals 16-50 17-28 53.
NAVY -- C. Williams 10-18 3-5 24, Savane 4-8 2-4 10, Josh Williams 1-6 2-5 4, Skipworth 1-7 5-8 8, Victor 1-5 0-0 3, John Williams 0-2 0-0 0, Reeder 0-0 2-3 2, Worthing 0-1 0-0 0, Nero 0-1 0-0 0, Cunningham 0-0 0-0 0, Hill 2-3 0-2 4, Murray 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 20-52 14-27 57.
Halftime--Bucknell, 33-25. 3-point goals--B 4-18 (Karavanic 2-5, Ramage 2-7, Wetzel 0-3, Callahan 0-3); N 3-11 (C. Williams 1-3, Skipworth 1-2, Victor 1-2, John Williams 0-2, Worthing 0-1, Nero 0-1). Fouled out--Bowen. Rebounds--B 38 (Karavanic 9); N 41 (Savane 10). Assists--B 7 (Callahan 3); N 13 (Skipworth, Victor 4). Total fouls--B 22, N 25. A--2,397.
Pub Date: 1/07/99