When asked what he thought about playing Bucknell in his team’s Patriot League season opener, Navy Coach Billy Lange laughed.
“A little ironic, huh?” he said. “It’s crazy because you know they were the last Patriot League team in the building and they’re going to be the first one this season.”
Who could forget that triple-overtime loss to the Bison in the Patriot League tournament quarterfinals? The Midshipmen held a 17-point lead with 16 minutes left in regulation but wound up losing, 87-86, on John Griffin’s 40-foot shot at the buzzer. Certainly, Navy remembers that defeat quite well.
“We have referenced that game a lot,” Lange said. “I think it’s an experience that we’ve all gone through. It’s something that everybody in our program besides our two freshmen experienced together. We can either use it as a negative and let it drain you that you lost on a 50-foot shot, or you use the negative experience to be a positive experience that’s going to educate you on how to keep yourself out of that situation.”
Even though the teams seem to be headed in opposite directions – Bucknell has lost five in a row and is 0-8 on the road, while Navy has won four of its last six and is 7-0 at home – Lange said none of that matters on Saturday when the teams open league play at Alumni Hall. Tipoff is 5 p.m. The game is being shown on ESPNU.
“They’re coming in 3-11, but I’m sure they’re extremely confident with the success they’ve had against us,” he said. “Records are going to be thrown out.”
Bucknell, which has won eight of the last nine meetings between the teams, is led by Justin Castleberry. The senior guard from Upper Marlboro averages 12.5 points per game. The Bison are averaging 66.8 points per game while allowing their opponents to score 77.7 points per game.
Navy (11-4) comes into the game at less than full strength. Sophomore guard Romeo Garcia, the Midshipmen’s best defender, remains hobbled by a second hamstring injury. Garcia has played in just seven games this season. Senior guard Kaleo Kina, the team’s leading scorer at 19.2 points per game, is nursing a separated shoulder from the Longwood game on Dec. 30. With sophomore guard Greg Brown out for the season with a knee injury, Navy’s depth at the guard position is curtailed.
Lange said American, the defending champion, remains the team to beat for the league title, but that any of the eight teams could emerge on top by the end of the season.
“On a nightly basis, we’re as competitive in terms of the closeness of the games down the stretch as any conference in the country,” Lange said. “Who wins those [close] games and then who can catapult those games into some momentum is probably going to be the teams that are going to have the most success over the course of 14 games.”
January 9, 2009; 5:57 AM ET
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