Shoving off on playoff push

The Baltimore Sun

Tonight marks an anniversary the Navy men's basketball team would just as soon forget.

It was March 4, 2001, that the Midshipmen last won a basketball playoff game. Seven times since, they have exited early from the Patriot League tournament.

Navy (19-10) hopes to end that streak tonight against Colgate in the quarterfinals at Alumni Hall (7 p.m.).

Navy is one of three Division I teams in the state, not counting Maryland, expected to have a legitimate chance to win an NCAA tournament berth. Tomorrow, Mount St. Mary's (17-12) starts its run for a second straight Northeast Conference championship. Next week, Morgan State (19-11) tries for the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference crown.

Navy, the No. 3 seed in the Patriot League tournament, has tossed Colgate twice this season. But, given the Mids' postseason drought, are they likely to rattle Colgate's teeth again?

"It's not something that I've mentioned a lot in practice," coach Billy Lange said of Navy's playoff woes. "And I hope our guys aren't connecting the dots.

"I don't want them to think it's a curse or bad karma. This team is part of Navy's history, sure - but we're not responsible for all of it."

Four of those seven tournament losses came in overtime, including last year's defeat to Bucknell. Navy lost on a running half-court bank shot at the buzzer in triple overtime.

"We were winning that game for 54 minutes and 58 seconds," Lange said. "But we didn't finish it."

That game still rankles the players, said Kaleo Kina, the Mids' top scorer (17.9 points per game).

"It's motivation for those of us who were on the court that night," said Kina, a 6-foot-4 senior guard who also leads his team in rebounds and assists.

"I don't know how many players in the country mean as much to their team as [Kina] does to us," Lange said. "If the game comes down to our final possession, it's no secret who will get the ball."

If there's an upside to Navy's playoff losing string, it's that the home team won't take Colgate (9-19) lightly, Lange said.

"We're tougher because of [the losses]," the coach said. "We're better prepared. The guys know how fragile each game is and that they have to play for every second. They are confident that they can beat anybody but humble enough to know they can lose to anyone, too."

In Emmitsburg, Mount St. Mary's opens defense of its Northeast Conference title tomorrow against Wagner (7 p.m.). Winner of 12 of its past 15 games, the Mount wants a showing like last year when it ran the table and then defeated Coppin State in the NCAA play-in game before losing by 39 to North Carolina.

"That experience is something we can draw on mentally," coach Milan Brown said. "We won't have to worry about our batteries being charged up for these games. If anything, I'll have to calm my guys down."

The Mountaineers split with Wagner this year but have lost three of the past four to the New York school.

"Tell you the truth, when we get to March, I don't care who we play just as long as we keep playing," Brown said. "If they called our name to play the [Los Angeles] Lakers, we'd do it just to still be out there.

"The month of March is great, but March doesn't care about anybody's feelings. You've got to make things happen."

In women's first-round action, Loyola (9-18) faces Manhattan (9-19) at 2 p.m. Thursday in Albany, N.Y., in Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference play. Mount St. Mary's (14-15) plays NEC rival Sacred Heart (22-7) at noon Saturday in Fairfield, Conn. And Navy (15-14) meets Bucknell (16-11) in the Patriot League tournament at 7:30 Saturday in Bethlehem, Pa.



(Seeds and overall records in parentheses)


Tonight: (6) Colgate (9-19) at (3) Navy (19-10), 7 p.m.


Tomorrow: (7) Wagner (16-13)

at (2) Mount St. Mary's (17-12), 7 p.m.


At Richmond, Va.

Friday: (6) Drexel (15-13)

vs. (11) Towson (10-21), 8:30 p.m.


At Albany, N.Y.

Friday: (8) Loyola (12-19)

vs. (9) Canisius (10-19), 7:30 p.m.


At Albany, N.Y.

Saturday: (3) Boston University (17-12)

vs. (6) UMBC (13-16), 2:30 p.m.


At Winston-Salem, N.C.

Tuesday, next Wednesday or March 12: Coppin State (12-17), Morgan State (19-11) and UMES (7-21), TBA


At Atlanta

March 12: Maryland (18-11), TBA


Site: Campuses

When: Tonight through March 13

TV: Championship game, March 13, 4:45 p.m., ESPN2; semifinals, TBA

Favorite: Top seed American

(21-7, 13-1)

State entry: Third seed Navy

(19-10, 8-6)

Outlook: After losing an opening-round, triple-overtime heartbreaker to Bucknell last season on a 45-foot basket, the Midshipmen are looking to win their first league tournament game since 2001. They defeated Colgate, tonight's opponent in Annapolis, four days ago at home and were 2-0 against the Raiders. Guard Kaleo Kina (17.9 ppg) topped the league in scoring and backcourt mate Chris Harris (15.7) wasn't far behind. Adam Teague gives Navy more of an inside presence than in the recent past. If the team can get by the opener and a potential semifinal at second seed Holy Cross, it feels confident about a third meeting with American, which won by one and five points in their two meetings.

Kent Baker

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