WEST POINT, N.Y. One game after being outscored by 17 points in the second half, the Army men’s basketball team pulled a comeback of its own, overcoming a five-point halftime deficit to notch a 65-60 win against Lafayette at Christl Arena on Wednesday, Feb. 27. It was the Black Knights’ fifth victory of the season in a game they trailed at the half.
The win snapped Army’s season-long four-game losing streak, improving its record to 12-15 overall and 5-8 in the Patriot League. Lafayette lost its sixth game in seven tries, dropping to 15-13 overall and 6-7 in league play.
With the game knotted at 57-57, sophomore Cleveland Richard gave Army the lead for good when he drove into the lane and hit a one-handed shot over the Lafayette defense as the shot clock was winding down. The Leopards had the ball with the shot clock turned off, but committed a turnover on their next possession. Junior Doug Williams hit two free throws to make it a four-point game with 12.8 seconds remaining, and Richard provided the defensive highlight of the game by emphatically rejecting a drive by Lafayette’s Andrew Brown. Sophomore Josh Miller corralled the loose ball and stroked two more free throws to make it a two-possession game with 6.5 seconds left. Bilal Abdullah tossed in a three-pointer with less a second left, but Richard stepped up and hit Army’s final two free throws with four-tenths of a second on the clock to ice it.
Army put four players in double figures for the first time this season led by sophomore Marcus Nelson’s career-high 15 points. Nelson made all seven of his field goal attempts and added four rebounds, an assist and two steals. Richard scored 12 points and tied for the team lead with six rebounds. He also contributed three assists, Army’s only blocked shot and a steal. Senior Jarell Brown struggled from the field, going 4 of 13, but still scored 11 points, all in the second half, and snared five boards. Miller filled the stat sheet with 10 points, six rebounds and four assists.
Lafayette had three players in double figures led by Andrew Brown’s 17. After shooting 11 of 18 overall and 9 of 15 in his 35-point effort in the first meeting, Brown was 5 of 16 from the floor and 3 of 12 from long range on Wednesday. Brown crossed the 1,000-point mark for his career and now has 1,014 markers. Matt Betley tossed in 16 points, 11 of which came in the first half, while Abdullah notched 12 markers. Everest Schmidt led all players with nine rebounds.
The Leopards shot better than 55 percent in their win over the Black Knights in Easton on Jan. 30, but the Army defense limited them to just 33.3 percent from the floor in the rematch. Lafayette entered the game as the league’s top three-point shooting team at 40.2 percent, but connected on only 29 percent (9-31) of its shots from behind the arc on Wednesday. The Black Knights hit 49.0 percent from the floor (25-51), outscoring the Leopards in the paint, 38-18.
Army entered Wednesday’s game having been outscored by more than 50 points at the foul line during its four-game skid, but outscored the Leopards at the line 12-9, including six straight makes in the final 12.8 seconds.
Much like the first meeting when the Leopards scored the first 12 points of the game, Lafayette got off to a hot start, scoring the game’s first six markers. Army stopped its opening drought with a turnaround jumper by Williams and a driving layup by Richard to close within a bucket with 17:04 on the first-half clock. Betley hit the Leopards’ first three-pointer to push the margin to 9-4 before the Black Knights scored four straight to get within one. Betley scored four straight to reclaim a five-point advantage for the Leopards, but Army scored the next seven points, including a three-pointer by Ryan Hodgson and back-to-back baskets by Nelson to take a 15-13 lead with 10:10 left in the half. The Leopards responded with back-to-back triples by Andrew Brown to regain the lead at 19-15. Neither team scored for nearly three minutes before Richard brought Army back within two. The Leopards went on a 5-0 run to take their largest lead of the half at 24-17 with 4:06 left. The Black Knights were able to score six of the final 10 points to trim the halftime deficit to five at 28-23.
Betley led all scorers with 11 first-half points. Nelson was Army’s top scorer during the first 20 minutes with six points, making all three of his field goal attempts, including a dunk and two layups. Army outshot the Leopards 42.3 percent to 34.4 percent, but the Leopards made four three-pointers compared to Army’s one.
Betley kept his momentum on the Leopards’ opening possession of the half, extending their lead to 30-23. Miller scored a putback basket for the Black Knights to jumpstart an 11-0 run that gave Army its first lead of the half. Army’s Jarell Brown was 0 for 5 from the floor in the first half, but his first make of the night was a three-pointer that tied the game at 30-30 during Army’s game-changing spurt.
The Black Knights led 36-32, but could not extend the lead after turning the ball over on three straight possessions. Andrew Brown was true from three to cut the lead to 36-35, and after Nelson hit one of two foul shots to push the lead back to two, Brown tied the game at 37-37 with 11:25 to go. Sophomore Tyrell Thompson briefly gave the Black Knights the lead back with a pair of free throws, but Abdullah scored the next five points to give the Leopards a 42-39 lead with 9:26 left. Army used a 10-0 spurt to regain control. Nelson started the run and Brown pushed the Black Knights back on top at 43-42 with 7:57 left. Down 45-42, Lafayette had a chance to tie, but Michael Gruner missed a three-point shot and Schmidt could not convert the putback attempt. Army gained possession and reeled off four more points to take its largest lead at 49-42. Lafayette mounted another rally, outscoring Army 15-8 over the next five minutes of action. Two free throws by Abdullah tied the game at 57-57, setting up Richard’s heroics in the final minute of play.
The victory marked the first time since joining the Patriot League in 1990-91 that the Black Knights have beaten five different conference teams in the same season.
Army wraps up the regular season on Saturday, March 1 when it hosts Bucknell at 2:30 p.m. The game was originally slated for 1 p.m, but was changed to accommodate fans who wish to attend the lacrosse game versus service academy rival Air Force at noon in Michie Stadium. Prior to tip-off, Army will celebrate the careers of seniors Corban Bates, Jarell Brown, Grant Carter and Ryan Hodgson.
Game Notes: Jon Sizemore was back in the starting lineup against Lafayette after coming off the bench against Navy ... Ryan Hodgson connected on his first career three-pointers ... Entering last Saturday’s game against Navy, Hodgson had played 28 minutes in his three-plus seasons ... He has played 32 in the last two games ... Army had four players in double figures for the first time since Jan. 13, 2007 versus Lehigh ... Josh Miller’s four assists moved him into 10th place on Army’s single-season list with 109 ... Army’s five league wins are the most since the 2001-02 squad went 6-8 ... Army has now won at least 12 games in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1977-78 (19) and 1978-79 (14) ... Army has 27 games in a two-year span for the first time in 23 seasons ... Army is 5-2 when Nelson scores at least six points and are 3-0 when he reaches double figures ... The Black Knights improved to 8-4 this season in games decided by five points or less ... Army will be trying for its first-ever season sweep of Bucknell on Saturday ... The Black Knights snapped a 15-game losing streak to the Bison with a 68-52 win in Lewisburg on Feb. 3.