More than three decades later, Derrick Lewis acknowledges that he and his Maryland teammates took their opponent in the second round of the 1985 NCAA tournament a little too lightly.
Even though the Naval Academy was located 30 miles from College Park, Lewis didn't think the Terps had much of an obstacle to the Sweet 16 after surviving another relative unknown, Miami of Ohio, 69-68, in overtime in the first round.
“I don’t remember us worrying too much about that team [Navy] giving us problems,” Lewis said this week ahead of the schools’ first meeting since then, in Annapolis on Friday. “They were the Naval Academy and we were an ACC team. They didn’t have any superstars that we knew of.”
Lewis, a freshman at the time who played center for the Terps at 6 feet 7 and a scrawny 195 pounds, had heard very little about Navy’s 6-11 sophomore center, a still-growing David Robinson.
“The only thing I knew about him was that he was a shot-blocker,” said Lewis, who was starting to get the same reputation at Maryland and remains the school’s all-time shot blocker.
Perhaps because he was a senior, and looked at the game and the opponent as a future coach himself, Chuck Driesell said he had a different viewpoint than Lewis about the Midshipmen and their burgeoning star.
“We knew they were going to be good and we knew David was good,” Driesell said Wednesday.
Robinson had only started to emerge on the national stage, having been among the NCAA’s top players that season with 23.6 points, 11.6 rebounds and 4 blocks a game. The previous game, a 78-55 win over LSU, Robinson had 18 points and 18 rebounds.
“At that point, we were kind of happy to be in the NCAA tournament,” Robinson said Thursday. “Each round for us was just a new adventure. I don’t know if we had much expectations and that made us have fun. LSU had no idea who we were. But Maryland kind of knew.”
Doug Wojcik, then a sophomore and Navy’s starting point guard, said the easy victory over the Tigers gave the Midshipmen confidence going into the game against Maryland.
“We had played so well against LSU that we thought, ‘Hey, anything’s possible. ... Great opportunity,’ ” Wojcik said Tuesday. “We were excited. We really thought we could win the game.”
Navy nearly did. Helped by a fast start by Robinson and leading by as many as 11 points early in the second half, the Midshipmen were unable to contain Maryland junior star Len Bias toward the end. Bias finished with 20 points. Robinson scored 22, but only two in the last 17 minutes.
After the Terps erased their deficit, a dunk follow by Bias with a little over 4½ minutes left gave the Terps the lead for good. Coach Lefty Driesell then went into a four-corner stall for 3½ minutes — the shot clock went in the next year — and Maryland survived, 64-59, before losing to eventual champion Villanova in the Sweet 16.
“Both teams played at such a high level and ultimately in that game, you had two [potential] Hall of Famers in David Robinson and Lenny Bias,” said Wojcik, now in his first season as an assistant coach under another Hall of Famer, Michigan State’s Tom Izzo.
Said Robinson: “It was a great game. That was all we wanted, to be competitive. We were trying to prove we were a program to be reckoned with. It was harder at that point because people didn’t know about you. You had to get out there and beat some teams in order to get into the NCAA tournament and get some respect.”
The meeting Friday night in Annapolis between Maryland (1-0) and Navy (0-1) will be the featured game in the Veterans Classic at 8:30 p.m. Providence and Wichita State will face off in the opener.
Wojcik said that there was little in the way of hype for the first matchup, given where the game was played.
“I think the thing about that is, there is no build-up until you both win,” Wojcik said Tuesday. “You have two days for the game, but you’re in a hotel in Dayton, Ohio, you’re not in Baltimore or Annapolis.”
Part of Navy’s confidence going into the University of Dayton Arena also came from Vernon Butler, a tough 6-foot-8 forward who had started his high school career at famed DeMatha Catholic before finishing at High Point High.
“David got all the pub, but Vernon was our rock,” Wojcik said.
Said Robinson: “Vernon could play with any forward in the country.”
In Butler’s senior year of high school, High Point split regular season games with Bias and Northwestern High before beating Bias’ team in the state championship game at Cole Field House on a 35-footer at the buzzer by Butler.
By the time they met again, Bias was well-known from his battles with North Carolina’s Michael Jordan the previous year, when Bias led Maryland to its only ACC tournament title under Lefty Driesell. He then became the ACC’s player of the year as a junior.
Because of the 36-hour prep involved between the first round and second round, “We didn’t really know a lot about the other teams going in,” Butler said. “I think we surprised ourselves that we were playing so well.”
Butler said that Navy couldn’t sustain its success in the second half, when Maryland made a key defensive adjustment. Driesell came out of a 2-3 zone and put the 6-foot-8, 220-pound Bias on Robinson.
“We eventually had to switch Lenny onto David because I couldn’t do anything with him,” recalled Lewis, who got into early foul trouble. “Lenny was a lot more physical with him and that kind of slowed him down a little bit.”
Robinson said Driesell’s second-half adjustments were the difference.
“Lefty respected us, he was much more aware of what we were capable of and he wanted to make us have to make plays,” Robinson said. “When you get down to the stretch of the game, you have to play every single possession, clearly an ACC team is going to be better than that. I don’t think we were ready for that type of game.”
That night, Navy coach Paul Evans said, “They wore us down. We played well for 30 minutes and then ran out of steam.”
As things turned out, the game against Maryland might have been the coming-out party for a player who would become the No. 1 pick in the 1987 NBA draft and one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history. A lot of that had to do with Bias.
“Those moments are the kind of moments you kind of live for,” Robinson said. “Here’s a guy I knew was going to play pro. At that point I didn’t even think I was going to be a pro. … For me it was a measuring stick. I didn’t just think it was going to be me against him, but I took it personal. It was a good gauge for me.”
It also served as a catalyst for one of the biggest upsets in NCAA tournament history. In 1986, the No. 7 seed Midshipmen shocked No. 2 seed Syracuse on its home court at the Carrier Dome in the second round behind 35 points and 11 rebounds from Robinson.
“In the Maryland game, we were up at half and they made a run and we didn’t know how to counter that,” recalled Butler. “The next year, we were a little more seasoned, we had to been to The Dance before and we knew what it would take. When we were up in the second half at Syracuse, we turned it on and actually increased the lead.”
The day after the Maryland-Navy game, both teams boarded the same US Airways flight back to Baltimore. Wojcik has a clear memory of walking behind Lefty Driesell in the airport in Dayton.
“Lefty must have squatted during the game, his pants were split in the back,” Wojcik recalled.
Said Chuck Driesell: “I can’t distinctly remember that happening, but I do remember that happening several times.”
An interesting sidelight to the Maryland-Navy game was the friendship that eventually forged when Chuck Driesell began his own coaching career at the Naval Prep School in Newport, R.I., later that year.
“He’s joining our staff and he’s around Annapolis, ... and I still have two years to play,” recalled Wojcik. “When I went on to Surface Warfare School before I reported to my ship, I had to go to Newport and I lived with Chuck.”
Wojcik called the younger Driesell, a former Maryland assistant, his “best friend in the coaching business.”
Driesell, now the coach at The Maret School in Washington, was hoping to get a ticket to Friday’s game in Annapolis. Robinson will be in attendance.
Wojcik will try to watch the game on television, thinking back to Dayton in 1985.
“It’s unbelievable that they haven’t played, being so close to each other,” he said.