The legend of David Robinson got one game larger Friday night. The Lilliputians from Cleveland State tried to pull him down, even venturing the occasional roll block, only to see him rise again, poke his head through the clouds and punch their tickets for them. Back to Lilliput, guys.
Robinson scored 22 points, with 14 rebounds and 9 blocked shots, and hit the layup on an in-bounds play with :06 left that gave Navy a 71-70 victory and a berth in the East regional final against No. 1-ranked Duke.
The Blue Devils eased past DePaul, 74-67. Now it's their turn to try to sink the aircraft carrier that's making all the fuss.
"I just want to ask (Navy Coach) Paul Evans one thing," Duke's Mike Kyryzewski said. "I have three daughters and I read them stories all the time. When did Cinderella get to be seven feet tall with 200 blocked shots?"
This is just one more exaggeration in the growing folk movement surrounding Robinson. The Navy junior is not 7 feet tall, but 6-11. He didn't block 200 shots this season. Just 196.
He batted down nine more Friday night, including the first Cleveland State shot of the night. He blocked so many of those put up by the Vikings' starting center, 6-8 Eric Mudd, it looked like Mudd's career shooting percentage might drop five points in a night.
"I said I don't care if he blocks 100 shots, we're going into his face," Cleveland State Coach Kevin Mackey said. "We were going at him. We got him out (in foul trouble) in the first half. A couple times in the second half, I thought he picked up his fourth foul. But I'm sure if I was coaching him, I wouldn't have thought that.
"Our guys really worked on him, but it was just a matter of time. He's a great player. We worked and we worked, and he went 7 for 11 (from the floor), 8 for 10 (from the free-throw line), 14 (rebounds), 22 (points) 9 (blocks).
"That's a superstar, gentlemen, a superstar. I said going into the game, he's the best in the country. I thought if he was coming out this year, he'd go No. 1. I salute him. I admire him for what he's going to do (enter the Navy). He's a great example for youth in this country. Although I'm sure his opportunities coming up were a little better than a lot of my guys.
"But that's a story for another day."
As Mackey had so indefatigably helped illustrate, this was a matchup of dramatic, or ironic proportions: The All-American boys from various suburbs against his Dead End kids, passed over by all the leading institutions and culled from all the leading playgrounds.
Voila , it turned out to be as good as a game can be. Both teams played wonderfully.
The Middies, whose slow guards were supposed to need an airmail stamp to get the ball past the Cleveland State press, ran it all the first half, during which Navy led by as many as 11 points.
Cleveland State got Robinson in foul trouble, the key play being a layup that 5-7 guard Shawn Hood razzle-dazzled right through him while Robinson hit him. Hood landed in the row of photographers ringing the court, knocked a telephoto lens off, chased it down, returned it, walked to the free-throw line and completed the three-point play.
Moments later, Robinson picked up his third foul and sat down, with Navy up, 31-24. Now it was going to be Mackey's inner-city kids against those lambs from suburbia for the last 3:44 of the half.
Navy went off at the half leading, 39-30. Score one for suburbia.
Back came Cleveland State. Mackey was using 10 players and in the second half, their depth seemed to tell. With 8:40 left, Ken (Mouse) McFadden, the 20-year-old freshman and former house painter, knocked in a 17-footer from the baseline to give Cleveland State its first lead. With 7:08, Cleveland State led, 60-55.
Robinson was busy staying out of further foul trouble at the defensive end and wrestling with Mackey's centers and whoever else was available when Navy had the ball. This culminated in a takedown by Cleveland State's Ray Salters, a 6-2, 220-pounder nicknamed Rambo, who wrestled Robinson to the floor, starting a minor pushing-shoving-milling about.
A foul was called on Salters, and Mackey took him out. After that, the referees seemed to protect Robinson a little more.
"I think David was getting killed the whole time," Evans, the Navy coach, said later. "The referees finally started to do the job expected of an NCAA official. If that's he best we have, we're hurting."
In the last 5:31, Robinson scored 12 points, six from the free-throw line. With 1:15 left, Navy forward Vernon Butler scored on a layup and Navy was back in the lead, 69-68.
At the other end, Cleveland State's Clinton Ransey drove across the lane, but Robinson cut him off and drew the charge. Navy ball.
With :57 left, Navy tried to hold the ball, but Cleveland State forward Clinton Smith stole it from Middie point guard Doug Wojcik, took it to the other end and scored. Cleveland State, 70-69, with :27 left.
The Middies tried a lob to Robinson, but it bounced away. Cleveland State's Paul Stewart rebounded it while the Middies dove at him. There seemed to be some contact. Butler seemed to grab Stewart's wrists. A referee whistled a jump ball between Stewart and Butler, and possession went back to Navy.
Evans drew up the in-bounds play that won the game, Butler coming to the ball, Robinson looping back, where he was free for a lob. He got one from Kylor Whitaker, rose up to about the 11-foot mark to receive it, took it to the basket and scored.
"I think it was obvious to everybody in the place, the only way they could get the ball back was intentionally foul us," a glum Stewart said. "They intentionally fouled us, and the refs overlooked it. They grabbed my arm. They were pulling me."
The world only has room for one Cinderella at a time. One went on. One went home.
DePaul, which was admitted to the NCAA tournament with a 16-12 mark and recorded surprise wins over Virginia and Oklahoma, played Duke tough for most of the first half.
Then the Blue Demons did what they were better known for, and unraveled.
Johnny Dawkins led Duke with 25 points and took 10 rebounds.
No one was happy with the outcome. The Blue Devils said they could have played better. The Blue Demons were even so graceless to complain about the officiating.