Holy Cross 68, Navy 66

(Originally posted: Friday, 10:20 p.m.)

Special to The Telegram&Gazette

ANNAPOLIS, Md. – A lot of people will argue Holy Cross’ Keith Simmons is the top sixth man in the Patriot League. Those folks got more ammunition to bolster that argument last night.

With his team trailing by 10 points early in the second half, Simmons took matters into his own hands, scoring 14 second-half points to lift the Crusaders to a gutty 68-66 win over resurgent Navy.

“Simmons is a gamer. He came up huge in the second half,” said Holy Cross coach Ralph Willard. “He had a monster second half.”

Trailing 41-31, with 15:49 to play, things were looking bleak for Holy Cross (16-5, 7-1 Patriot League). Their top scorer was suffering through what might have been the worst offensive night of his career. Their shot-blocking center was sitting on the bench with a bag of ice taped to his sprained left ankle. They were being outrebounded, outhustled and outplayed by the same Navy team they had spanked by 33 points just a few weeks ago in Worcester.

That’s when Simmons got them started. First he stepped outside the arc and drained a three for the Crusaders’ first points of the second half. A half minute later he took the ball strong to the hole and Navy’s 10-point lead was cut in half.

That started a little 13-6 Holy Cross run that got the Crusaders within 3, 47-44, with 12 minutes to play.

Navy’s Laramie Megerson stopped the Midshipmen’s bleeding temporarily with a big slam off a fast break to build the lead back to 5. But Simmons answered with a pull-up jumper and Greg Kinsey followed that with a three-pointer that tied the game 49-49.

The Midshipmen (6-15, 2-6) went back ahead on another dunk, this one by George O’Garro, the only points of the night for Navy’s leading scorer in conference play. But that was the last the Mids would lead.

At the other end, Kevin Hamilton got an offensive rebound off a Kinsey miss, and the ball found its way to Simmons on the arc. Simmons buried the trey to give Holy Cross a 52-51 lead with 7:48 to play and the Crusaders never trailed again.

“Coach told me to be more aggressive in our offense,” Simmons said. “We were having trouble scoring.”

Simmons was not the only hero. Freshman point guard Pat Doherty, who like most of the Crusaders, struggled on offense much of the night, hit back-to-back threes to build the lead to 9 with 2:08 to play. Up to that point, Doherty had made just 1 of the first 8 shots he took.

“That kid (Doherty) has no fear, he really doesn’t,” said Willard. “Some kids would be hanging their head. But crunch time, he made the shots we needed.”

Needed is an understatement. Down 9 with less than two minutes to play, Navy never gave up. The Midshipmen took advantage of poor free throw shooting down the stretch by Holy Cross to cut the lead to 2 with eight seconds to go. But Navy’s David Rhoiney missed a 17-footer that would have tied it with four seconds left and the Mids’ Corey Johnson got called for a foul that wiped out Megerson’s offensive rebound with less than a second left.

Holy Cross’ John Hurley missed both free throws, but Johnson’s desperation, length-of-the-court was wide of the backboard at the buzzer.

“It’s a win. That’s about all you can say about it,” Willard said. “There’s no question we were fortunate to win the basketball game tonight.”

Near the end of the first half, when Navy 19-5 run to build a 10-point lead, it looked as though the Midshipmen, who had lost their first five in league play, were en route to their third straight upset win. The Mids were shooting better than any Holy Cross opponent in recent memory, hitting 14-of-29 (48 percent) in the first half, including 4-of-7 from the arc.

Navy outrebounded Holy Cross 23-15 in the first half, a margin that would have been worse if not for a brief flurry of life by the Crusaders just before the break. In retrospect, that was probably when the momentum shifted. Trailing 36-26, the Crusaders scored the last five points of the half, thanks in no small part to four offensive rebounds, including one that led to an old-fashioned three-point play by Simmons, who was fouled while putting back a missed free throw by Hamilton.

Hamilton’s missed free throw was symbolic of the kind of night the Patriot League’s leading scorer had. Coming in, the 6-4 junior was averaging nearly 16 points per game. But after that missed free throw, he had just 3 points at the half, all of which came on the one three-pointer he made out of nine first half field goal attempts. Hamilton finished with just 7 points, shooting 2-for-14 from the field.

Hurley’s abysmal 1-for-8 night at the free throw line was a glaring blemish on an otherwise strong 13-point, 9-rebound performance.

Johnson led four Midshipmen in double figures with 17 points. Greg Sprink, who hit four of the first five three-pointers he tried, finished with 14. Taj Matthews added 11 and Megerson had 10 for Navy.

Sprink’s three-point shooting was a big part of Navy’s early advantage. But after he drained one with 13:30 to go in the half, Holy Cross’ defense took the trey out of Navy’s arsenal, allowing only the Mids only two more looks from outside the arc, both of which were missed.

“Our communication was bad in the first half,” said Simmons. “I missed a couple of switches and it led to some open shots for Navy. We were looking to take away those open looks in the second half.”

The Crusaders will try to extend their winning streak to nine in a row Sunday, when they visit American. Holy Cross could be without the services of 6-11 center Lufkin for that one. Lufkin came down bad on his left ankle going after an offensive rebound with about 8 minutes to go in the first half and did not return to the game. Lufkin left Alumni Hall on crutches and Willard said he had a lot of swelling in the injured ankle, adding, “It doesn’t look good.”

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