With a win over Colgate this Saturday, Navy will claim its first Patriot League regular season title since 2000. They will also clinch a berth in the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) courtesy of a rule change that awards the regular season conference winners who fail to advance to the NCAA tournament via their own conference playoffs. Regardless of the outcome of the remaining games on the Mids slate, they have already clinched a winning season for the first time since 2001, but their focus is assuredly on winning out and advancing to the big dance.
As for last night’s game, Navy came out on fire, racing out to a 14-6 lead less than five minutes into the contest. Nine of those points came from behind the 3-point arc as Navy junior guard Kaleo Kina helped the Mids control the tempo of the game out of the gate. Navy would extend its lead to as many as 12 points in the first half before American began to mount a comeback. The Eagles went on a 12-4 run to pull within four points with five minutes left in the half.
The Mids, however, responded a mini-run of its own, courtesy of back-to-back three pointers by Kina and sophomore Chris Harris, to extend its lead to eight points, 41-33, going into intermission.
The second half began with sloppy play on both sides of the court as Navy and American combined to turn the ball over five times in the early going. Further indication of the ugly play was that the two teams combined to score only 24 points in the first nine minutes of the second stanza. However, that’s when American caught fire. Led by junior guard Garrison Carr, who finished with a team-high 20 points, the Eagles pulled ahead of Navy for the first time all night, 52-51, with nine minutes to play. They would extend their lead to 58-55, two minutes later courtesy of a three pointer by Carr. But that would be their last lead as Navy’s Sprink took over the game soon thereafter much to the delight of the rowdy 3,191 fans at Alumni Hall.
After an Adam Teague three pointer tied the game at 58, Sprink went on to score 13 of Navy’s final 25 points to put the game away.
Overall, Navy shot 39% from the field and from three-point range, but by far the most eye-catching statistic was in the turnover battle. American turned the ball over 21 times while the Mids only gave the ball away 8 times the entire night. On the season, Navy has averaged 16 turnovers a game.
Navy will now travel to Colgate (15-12, 5-8) with a chance to clinch the #1 seed in the Patriot League Tournament and an automatic berth in the NIT tournament. The Red Raiders are the only league team Navy has not beaten this season, as the Mids fell at home to Colgate, 84-77 on February 2. In arguably the worst game of his career, Greg Sprink went 3-23 from the field against Colgate. If Sprink can put together the kind of performance on Saturday that he did last night against American, the Patriot League Tournament will go through Annapolis.