One epic comeback win in a career is usually plenty, but coach Jimmy Allen now has two — and both on his chief rival’s home court.
Army erased a 22-point deficit over the final 12 minutes of regulation and withstood two go-ahead attempts in the final second of overtime to beat Navy 74-73 at Alumni Hall in Annapolis, Maryland, on Saturday.
Five years earlier, on Feb. 18, 2017, Army rallied from 25 points down with 13 minutes left to beat Navy, 71-68, to claim that season’s Star Game.
“Holy cow, I couldn’t be more proud of a basketball team,’’ said Allen, who improves to 7-4 in Army-Navy games. “It just speaks volumes about the resiliency and the toughness and the character of our guys.’’
The win also put Army (6-2, 12-8 overall) into a percentage tie with Colgate (3-1, 7-10) and Loyola (6-2, 12-7) for first place in the Patriot League.
Navy’s defenders jumped out in close defense and disturbed Army’s offensive flow in the first half, at one point seizing a 27-point lead at 38-11.
“I thought we didn’t really adjust to the physicality of Navy, with the way they were guarding us,’’ said Allen, likening it to how Army struggled with Air Force in a non-league loss earlier this season.
“They just kind of punched us in the mouth early,’’ said Army guard Jalen Rucker. “It was hard for us to respond, hard for us to get some open shots. And we really couldn't stop them on the defensive end.’’
The Black Knights turned up the defensive pressure on their own in the closing two minutes, scoring seven points and gaining a bit of pride and momentum headed into halftime down 40-18. “We kind of responded a little bit and got a little bit of life,’’ Allen said.
Army shaved 10 points off the deficit early in the second half but a 5-0 run by the Midshipmen built the Navy lead to 53-31 with 11:36 to play.
Army’s 3-point shooting picked up and Navy’s turnovers mounted. Army scored the opening 10 points of a stunning 31-5 run. Near the end of the streak, unheralded junior Chris Mann hit a 3-pointer from the left wing, converted a conventional 3-point play and sank a right-wing jumper to put Army on top 62-60 with 2:56 to play.
“The second half we just wanted to play as simple as possible, stick to our principles, try to keep them out of the paint,’’ Rucker said. “They were getting a lot of shots in the paint and then as the game went on we just kept getting more stops. We ended up hitting some big-time shots and then started cutting the lead down.’’
Navy’s John Carter hit a 3-pointer in transition, Rucker sank two foul shots and Navy’s Greg Summers sliced across the lane for a game-tying layup with 26 seconds left in regulation. Aaron Duhart’s drive from the right wing was high-banked off the glass and tipped off the front of the rim at the buzzer.
The lead changed hands four times during the five-minute overtime. Down 73-72, Army pressured the ball full court, Navy’s Tyler Nelson dribbled up the right sideline just past halfcourt when he tried to throw the ball to Summers in the middle. Mann used his long arms to snare the ball, sending Jalen Rucker on a fast break and go-ahead layup with 29 seconds left.
Summers drove the lane with four seconds remaining but Army’s Josh Caldwell slowed his progress and Charlie Peterson managed a clean block from behind. A half-second was put on the clock and Navy’s final lob attempt to Tyler Nelson was knocked away by Caldwell and the Black Knights erupted in celebration.
“This game is just straight up about winning individual battles and I thought that's what we did during that closing stretch,’’ Allen said.
The mood was more somber on the Navy side.
“As well as we played the first half, we played the second half the exact opposite,’’ said Navy coach Ed DeChellis. “Really frustrating. We just took turns throwing the ball away to the other team. We finished the game with 20 turnovers (15 after halftime) and they scored 30 points off our turnovers.’’
Mann said Army went “really aggressive” with the defensive press once his team was down 20.
“It's like more aggressive than we usually go with it because obviously we needed to change something and we did,’’ he said. “We started hitting some shots and we were able to come away with the ‘W’ (win).’’
Army uncharacteristically hit eight 3-pointers in the second half. “We gave them open looks on the perimeter and that was our demise,’’ DeChellis said.
Mann hit a trio of 3-pointers and finished with a career-high 20 points. Rucker also had three 3-pointers and scored 17. Aaron Duhart scored 10 of his 13 points after the break. Josh Caldwell posted 10 points and had six of Army’s 11 steals.
“Chris is so good in transition and he's good when the game is getting up and down,’’ Allen said. “He’s so explosive. He’s a capable shooter … we've kind of been waiting for him to get a little bit hot from three and today's a good day for that to certainly happen.’’
For Navy (12-7, 5-3 Patriot), John Carter Jr. had 17 points, reserve Daniel Deaver had 10 and Summers added 11. The Midshipmen lost despite shooting 59.3 percent from the floor, not aided by 3-for-14 shooting beyond the arc.
Army trails the all-time series 81-55 and is 25-45 in games at Annapolis.
Army plays at Lehigh on Wednesday, hosts Lafayette on Saturday and travels to Loyola on Feb. 2. The Star Game against Navy is Feb. 12 at 1:30 p.m.
This article originally appeared on Times Herald-Record: Army West Point NCAA college basketball Navy Patriot League