Navy edges Army in OT, 67-62

In front of a packed, partisan Christl Arena, the two arch-rival service academies played to a hard-fought draw over the regulation 40 minutes. Army took the lead early in the extra session, but Navy reeled off a 10-2 run over the last 3 minutes of overtime to give the Midshipmen a close 67-62 victory over the Black Knights.

The first half was a seesaw battle with 9 lead changes and no team leading the other by more than 5 points. True to form, both teams started out cautious and slow on offense. Matt Bell opened the scoring for Army with a 3-point field goal from the corner, and an Erik Engstrom layup followed by a Corban Bates 17-ft jumper gave the Black Knights a 7-4 lead about 5 minutes in. However, Navy then went on an 11-3 run, sparked by Navy's star of the game, sophomoe Greg Sprink. Sprink eluded Marshall Jackson for a backdoor layup with a little under 8 to play to give the Middies a 15-10 advantage. Army then came roaring back. Matt Bell converted a traditional 3-point play, and buckets from Jarell Brown and Cory Sinning capped a 7-0 Army run to put the Black Knights back in front, 17-15. Sprink answered with a traditional 3 of his own and Leonard Green scored his only basket of the game on a tip-in of an offensive rebound to put Navy ahead, 20-17. With the crowd urging them on, Army then scored the next 8 in a row, started by a nice driving layup from Jarell Brown. This gave Army a 25-20 lead with a minute and half to play. However, Navy poured on the gas and connected for 3 consecutive treys (Sprink hitting the last one with 7 seconds left in the half) to cap a 9-0 Navy run and give them the lead, 29-25 at halftime.

After a very entertaining halftime show, the teams took the floor to continue the even battle. Freshman Kalao Kina of Navy hit yet another 3-point field goal, and it looked like Navy might shoot Army out of the gym. But, Army showed some moxy. Jimmy Sewell converted a traditional 3-point play on a nice inside move. Navy would counter with some excellent inside play from Carlton Baldwin. The teams traded baskets for awhile, but Army inched ever closer and regained the lead, 39-38 on 2 Matt Bell free throws with 10 to play. Navy continued to shoot early and often from the outside. In fact, out of their 65 field goal attempts for the game, 31 were from behind the 3-point arc. Freshman Bryce Brigham hit a trey from right in front of the Navy bench to give Navy a 41-39 lead. The teams traded possessions and buckets again, and a Matt Bell corner 12-ft jumper gave Army a 45-44 lead with 8 to play.

The teams then started treating possessions like the gold at Fort Knox. Both teams started to pound the ball inside and the refs consistently called the fouls on the defense. This officiating pattern, while being "fair" and consistent for both teams, gave Navy an edge due to the toughness of Navy senior, Matt Fannin. Fannin wore out a path to the charity stripe, at one point accounting for 5 consecutive Middie points on free throws. Army drew its share of fouls against Navy, too. Army held a slim 54-52 lead with a little over 2 to play when Matt Bell stirred the crowd by converting a tough driving layup while getting fouled. However, Bell missed the associated free throw, and this turned out to be critical. Bryce Brigham converted a free throw to draw Navy to within 3. Then, once again, Greg Sprink came through in the clutch, hitting a trey from the top of the key to tie the game at 56. The last minute and a half saw both teams being a little tentative, afraid to make a key mistake, and neither squad scored for the rest of regulation.

Army, disheartened at losing the late 4-pt lead in regulation, still came out strong at the beginning of OT. After yet another Fannin free throw, Corban Bates countered with 2 free throws and then contributed a beautiful back door pass to Erik Engstrom, who converted the layup to give Army a 60-57 lead. Once again, however, the nemesis Sprink spoiled the home crowd's fun. Sprink hit another 3 from the top of the key to tie the game at 60. The teams traded foul shots over the next couple of minutes. With Army leading 62-61 with 45 seconds remaining in OT, Matt Fannin proceeded to back his way down low again, and then turned around and banked one in for a 63-62 Navy lead. Army was unable to put together any offense for the rest of the OT, and 4 Navy free throws later, the Midshipmen attained its revenge and sent the crowd home unhappy.

No doubt about it, the player of the game was Greg Sprink. Sprink hit a total of 4 3-point field goals on his way to a game-high 23 points. Sprink is a smooth-shooting lefty who will probably give Army and other Patriot League opponents fits over the next 2+ years. Matt Fannin was Navy's "Mr. Inside" and even though he had a poor shooting percentage, his play down low helped set the stage for Navy's comeback.

Matt Bell led the Black Knights with 18 points. Jarell Brown looked mortal in this game, yet still had enough mental toughness to pour in 15 points. Finally, Corban Bates played like a man among boys. Bates earned a rare double-double (10+ pts and 10+ rebounds) and even led the team in assists with 5 (nice game, Corban).

Army was not helped by their poor 3-point shooting, and down the stretch, the team looked very tentative. They looked as though they were afraid to lose. The team will have to improve if it hopes to get out of the Patriot League cellar.

Army's opponents do not come easier. The 1-8 Black Knights travel to Worcester, Mass on Wednesday to take on the 6-2 Crusaders of Holy Cross. In the last meeting, Holy Cross showed why they will be challenging for the PL title as they blew out Army the last time they met, 84-46. Game time 7 pm. Top Stories