Army Tames Leopards, 57-56

Army 57, Lafayette 56

WEST POINT, N.Y. -  Freshman G Julian Simmons stroked a pair of free throws with 6.6 seconds remaining to cap a 6-0 Army run and give the Black Knights a 57-56 win over Lafayette in Patriot League men’s basketball action on Wednesday night in Christl Arena. Simmons finished the game with a career-best 20 points, including four free throws during the Black Knights game-winning run.

Army (6-13, 2-3) has now won two straight games for the first time this season. The victory also snapped a six-game losing streak in games following a victory over arch-rival Navy, who the Black Knights defeated on Sunday.

Lafayette (6-14, 2-4) suffered their third straight defeat, and second in a row by three points or less.

“We hung in there when we got down,” Army head coach Jim Crews said. “We had to get stops and executed on offense. I thought they stayed with it. We played through the end.”

In addition to Simmons’ first career 20-point effort, junior F Cleveland Richard recorded his third consecutive double-digit game with 16 points on 6 of 8 shooting. Richard scored 14 of his points in the first half. Senior C Doug Williams scored six points and snared a team-high six rebounds, while juniors Marcus Nelson and Josh Miller each handed out four assists.

Michael Gruner led the Leopards with 12 points, all of which came in opening period, and five assists. Ryan Willen chipped in 10 points, while Jeff Kari pulled down a game-high seven rebounds.

Lafayette held a 29-22 advantage on the boards, including an 11-5 offensive rebounding edge, but the Black Knights outshot the Leopards, 46.3 percent to 40.4 percent. It marked the first time this season that Army has hit at least 46 percent of its field goals in consecutive games.

Army’s final six points came from the foul line as the Black Knights went the final two minutes, 45 seconds without a field goal. Despite the drought, Army overcame a 56-51 deficit with in the final two minutes. Simmons was fouled while shooting a three-pointer with 1:42 remaining and cut the deficit to three points with two makes. After Army rebounded a missed three-pointer, Miller stepped up and hit both ends of a one-and-one to make it a one-point game with 55.5 seconds remaining.

The Leopards appeared to go back up by three points, but Jared Mintz’s basket was waved off after a charging foul. Army called time out to draw up its final play, and Simmons was fouled while driving to the basket. The rookie toed the line and calmly drained both shots with 6.6 seconds left to give the Black Knights their winning points.

After an Army time out to set up its full-court defense, the Leopards advanced the ball into the frontcourt with 3.6 seconds left and called time out. The Black Knights’ did not allow the ball inbounds and forced Lafayette to use its final time out. On the next play, the ball came in to the Leopards’ top scorer, Andrew Brown, but his 13-foot leaner glanced off the front of the rim as time expired.

Army’s winning run came on the heels of a 20-4 Lafayette run that brought the Leopards all the way back from an 11-point deficit. The Black Knights led 47-36 with 10:20 left on the clock, but went six minutes, two seconds without a field goal during the Leopards’ comeback. A three-point play by Willen gave Lafayette a 56-51 lead with 2:01 to go, setting up Army’s heroics.

Lafayette jumped out to a quick 5-2 lead, but a three-pointer by Richard tied the game with 15:29 left in the half. Gruner came right back on the Leopards’ next possession with a triple of his own to start an 8-1 run that gave the Leopards a 13-6 lead at the 15:29 mark.

Richard singlehandedly brought the Black Knights back, scoring the first nine points of a 14-4 run that put Army out in front. Simmons’ first three-pointer gave the Black Knights their first lead of the game, and sophomore G Rickey Royal hit two free throws to put the Black Knights ahead, 20-17, with 6:59 to go in the half. The Leopards went seven minutes, 25 seconds without a field goal during the Army spurt, scoring all their points at the foul line. Richard went 3 for 3 from the field and 3 for 3 from the foul line during the run.

Army stretched its lead to 25-19 on a jumper by Nelson with 3:39 left. The Leopards got within three points on a Gruner layup with 1:57 left, but Army scored the next four points, including another triple by Simmons, to take 33-26 lead, its largest of the half.

One game after hitting 65.0 percent of its field goal attempts, Army continued its hot shooting, connecting on 50 percent of its tries in the first 20 minutes. The Black Knights’ defense held the Leopards to 34.8 percent from the floor and forced 11 Lafayette turnovers.

A three-pointer by Simmons to open the second half gave Army a 36-26 lead, but back-to-back triples by Kari and Willen cut the lead to 36-32. Simmons again was true from three-point range to push the lead back to seven points, but a quick 4-0 run by the Leopards pulled them back within three. Army went on an 8-0 run to claim its 11-point lead before Lafayette’s scoring run.

Army has now defeated Lafayette two straight times for the first time since sweeping the 2001-02 regular-season series. The Black Knights have won three straight versus the Leopards at Christl Arena.

Army ends its three-game homestand on Saturday when it hosts Bucknell at 4 p.m. The first 1,000 paid admissions will receive a free Bob Knight bobblehead. Also, in honor of Knight’s trademark sideline attire, any fan wearing a sweater to the game will be entered to win one of five pictures autographed by the NCAA Division I all-time winningest coach.

Game Notes: Cleveland Richard made his first four shots to run his consecutive field goal streak to 10 straight. He made his final shot in the first half and was 5 for 5 in the second half in the win over Navy ... Julian Simmons has scored at least 13 points in all four of his starts ... Simmons is averaging 12.9 points per game since the calendar turned to 2009 ... Army has been outrebounded in nine straight games ... For the second straight game, Army held a team’s leading scorer to single digits. Lafayette’s Andrew Brown entered the game scoring 14.5 points per game, but tallied just seven on Wednesday ... Army is now 4-2 in its last six Patriot League home games ... The Black Knights are now 7-19 in their last 26 games when not scoring at least 60 points ... Army is 12-6 in its last 18 games decided by six points or less ... The Black Knights are now 13-7 in their last 20 games when getting to the line at least 15 times and 9-4 when making at least 13 foul shots in a game ... Army has just three home games left on the schedule. Following Saturday’s game with Bucknell, the Black Knights are on the road until Feb. 14 against Lehigh. Only two of the eight games in February will be played at West Point.

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