Army’s men basketball team could have folded up like a house of cards. They could have simply shut down and given up after visiting arch-rival Navy outscored them by nine points in the final six minutes of regulation in their Patriot League contest at West Point’s Christl Arena to force overtime.
But, the Black Knights did not fold in the extra session. In fact, they took all a feisty and pesky Navy team could throw at them and held on for a thrilling and chaotic 69-67 victory over the Midshipmen in the “Star Game” between the two teams.
With a capacity crowd of nearly 5,000 people standing for the last three minutes of regulation and all of overtime, the Black Knights managed to hold off Navy to raise their overall record to 8-17 and share the same record as the Midshipmen, who lost their sixth straight game, at 4-8 in the Patriot League.
But, forget about the records. As so often happens, and regardless of the sport, this was Army-Navy at its absolute best and the sellout crowd was loving every second of it. In the end, the game was decided when freshman Josh Scovens, who finished with 16 points, hit three high-pressure foul shots after being hit on the arm as he tried to launch a game-winning and somewhat desperate shot with two seconds left in overtime and Army trailing by a point.
“My confidence has been through the roof since the beginning of the season only because my teammates are besides me,” said Scovens. “The atmosphere was amazing. It was exactly what I expected. People in my company and people around the school that I see out to support me, giving me great vibes.”
Navy had taken that 67-66 lead when Mac McDonald hit two free throws after he somehow managed to grab the ball in a free-for-all scrum under the Navy basket and was fouled. Before that, it was absolute chaos, on the court as both teams struggled to get an advantage and in the stands, especially along one baseline where it was impossible to miss Army football coach Jeff Monken and most of his players rooting on their schoolmates.
In that environment, Navy’s players stayed cool. With its guards, Austin Inge and Austin Benigni, leading the way, Navy raced out to an eight-point lead midway through the first half. The Midshipmen led by one, 31-30, at halftime. In the second half, Army got going, led by Scovens and senior Abe Johnson, who finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds, not to mention seemingly sending fear through the Navy frontcourt wherever he was.
The combination of a good defense, controlling the boards and hitting shots, helped Army take its nine-point lead with 6:36 left in the game. But, as first-year head coach Kevin Kuwik said, and something he took the blame for, the wheels suddenly came off Army’s offense at the same time Navy started to turn it on again. The Midshipmen’s Mitch Fischer hit two free throws to tie the game at 56 and send it into overtime.
Kuwik was quick to note that senior Charlie Peterson’s two baskets early in overtime set the tone for the extra period and settled his team down.
“Credit to Navy. But credit to our guys too. It was very demoralizing and could have been deflating, but we kept fighting,” said Kuwik. “We are still learning. We came up short against Navy when we played them there (a 57-53 loss to the Middies in January in Annapolis). Today, we took a big step from where we were at Navy. It was a confidence booster for our guys and we are looking forward to building on that going forward.”
Scovins has quickly become the star of this young team. “Josh is mature beyond his years,” Kuwik said. “But the No. 1 thing about Josh, and he is incredibly talented and a wonderful young man and will be an unbelievable leader, is he is a competitor. He is a warrior. It does not surprise me that he made those free throws because that kid is a winner.”
Kuwik was also high on Johnson’s effort. “I think for a long stretch of the game, Abe was an absolute force, a monster on both ends and dominating the game,” he said. “Abe just shows up, does his work, chops wood every day, is kind of a soft-spoken guy, but, again, is an absolute warrior.”