ANNAPOLIS, Md. --Mark Veazey scored 17 points with nine rebounds off the bench and after a slow start, the Navy men's basketball team cruised past Army in the annual Star Game, 75-58, in a sold-out Alumni Hall and a national television audience on Saturday afternoon.
The win moves Navy's record to 10-18 overall and 5-7 in the Patriot League and gives Navy the Alumni Trophy, given annually to the winner of the Star Game, for the 27th time in the last 31 seasons. Army fell to 11-16 overall and 3-9 in league play.
Navy spotted Army a 16-4 lead eight minutes into the game, but outscored the Black Knights, 32-10, over the final 11:29 of the first half to take a 36-26 halftime lead. Navy's lead would be no less than 15 points during the final nine minutes of the contest and the Mids swept the season series for the first time since the 2002-03 season.
The story of the game was the Navy defense, which limited Army to just 18-of-52 shooting from the field and 6-of-18 from three-point range. Navy held the Black Knights without a field goal for a span of nine-minutes and 48 seconds in the second half.
Navy also outrebounded its third straight opponent and held Army to just two offensive rebounds for the game, both of which came in a one-minute, 9-second span in the first half. Army did not have an offensive rebound over the final 30:51 of the game.
Over the last three games, Navy has outrebounded its opponents by a 118-92 (8.7 boards per game) margin and held opponents to just 58-of-152 (.382) from the field. The plus-23 rebounding margin was the highest rebounding margin for the Midshipmen since Feb. 23, 2005 vs. Lafayette (71-33).
In the first meeting, an 85-81 Navy victory, Army shot 27-of-59 (.458) from the field and 14-of-30 (.467) from three-point range.
"We get a lot of ripping on our rebounding, so that needs to be a headline," joked Navy head coach Billy Lange, who is now 6-1 in Star Games against Army. "We are making more shots, so there are fewer rebounds for the opponent to get, and we are playing better defensively, which means we can get more rebounds. We have rebounded really well the last three games. Today was exceptional."
Veazey may have played his best game in his four years at Navy. The 6-11 senior center from Lilburn, Ga., scored 17 points on 8-of-14 field goal attempts with a season-best nine rebounds in just 17 minutes. He grabbed five offensive rebounds, including a thunderous dunk off an offensive rebound which gave Navy a 49-36 lead with 9:07 left that brought the sold-out crowd of 5,710 to its feet.
Over the last two games, Veazey has scored 27 points with 17 rebounds (11 offensive) in just 33 minutes, while shooting 12-of-20 from the floor.
"About a week ago, we issued a challenge to Mark, and he was great at Holy Cross and was great today. He has had a very good career, and I think he realizes this is it," said Lange. "He and J.J. (Avila) are playing better defensively and it gives us a chance to play them together now. He is taking advantage of his opportunities. I have been here seven years and he is the best teammate we have had. He is very selfless, is a positive encourager and goes the extra mile. I want him to know what he has in him. The last three games, he has given us incredible spark off the bench. Our bench was phenomenal today, and it started with him."
Navy fell behind 12-0, but quickly rallied to eventually take the lead at 20-18 on a three-point play by Jordan Sugars (Jr. / Winchester, Va.) with 6:17 left in the first half. Navy still led 33-26 with 2.3 seconds left in the first half, when the Mids executed a perfect in-bounds play from under the Army hoop, capped off by an Avila 25-foot three-pointer to push the halftime lead to 10 at 36-26.
In Navy's last three wins over Army, dating back to last year, Navy has overcome deficits of 14 (last year), 11 and 12 points.
Army was still within 13 at 49-36, when the Midshipmen went on a 10-3 spurt to grab a 59-39 advantage with 4:47 left. Navy led by as many as 24 (67-43) with 1:53 to play, when Army made six of its final seven shots to cut the final margin to 75-58.
The 17-point margin of victory was the largest for Navy in the series since Jan. 31, 2003 (65-46).
"This team has been good defensively all year. Our offense has hurt us and quite honestly, we finally know who we are. It obviously took us some time. We have been a good defensive team and after the Lehigh game, we decided that this is going to be the way we win or lose. Our defense tonight was outstanding. They are a hard team to defend. I was humbled by our defense. Very few times in my career have I been thoroughly impressed by our defense, and I was today," said Lange.
Navy shot 23-of-50 (.460) from the field, 5-of-17 (.294) from three-point range and 24-of-33 (.727) from the free throw line. The 17 three-point attempts were the fewest for Navy this year. The Mids were also guilty of 21 turnovers, but outscored the Black Knights in the paint, 32-12.
Army was 16-of-23 (.696) from the free throw line and had 13 turnovers.
Sugars led Navy with 20 points and added six rebounds and three assists. His three three-pointers give him 149 for his career, the fifth most in school history. Romeo Garcia (Sr. / Cypress, Texas) scored a season-high 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting with five rebounds and an assist in 33 minutes. He surpassed the 500-point mark for his career in the victory.
"We played Lehigh the other night, and I was disappointed in our defensive awareness, and I felt bad about not playing Romeo a lot. I called him that night and told him I was wrong," said Lange. "What Romeo Garcia has done for Navy Basketball is beyond anything we can see on the statsheet. If we want to be good defensively, the bottom line is that Romeo has to be on the floor. Now, he is playing confidently on offense and really showed that today."
Avila recorded a solid floor game with seven points, nine rebounds, five assists and a block, while going just 2-of-3 from the floor. O.J. Avworo (Sr. / Houston, Texas) added seven points, five rebounds and four assists.
Ella Ellis led Army with 13 points, but the high-scoring trio of Ellis, Jeremy Hence and Julian Simmons combined for just 26 points after entering the game averaging a combined 44.1 points per game. They went 8-of-28 from the field and just 2-of-9 from three-point range.
"I want to also give credit to our fans," said Lange. "They were into it all game long and really gave us a lift. Alumni Hall is a special place to play and when the crowd is excited and into the game, it is as tough of a place to play in the league. They were a big factor today."
Navy will head to the Nation's Capital on Wednesday night to face American at 7:30 pm at Bender Arena. The game will be aired by WNAV (1430 AM) with Pete Medhurst on the call. As always, the game will be streamed online as part of the Navy and Patriot League All-Access packages.