The Washington Times - December 5, 2008, 09:24PM

I meant to get this story up a little bit earlier, but now that Navy has handled Penn 76-65 up at the Palestra, it probably becomes a little more meaningful.

With 38 seconds left in Tuesday’s defeat of Texas-San Antonio, Navy coach Billy Lange called a timeout and delivered a verbal scalding. With an announced crowd of 1,001 at Alumni Hall, it wasn’t hard to figure out what exactly Lange was telling his team, which led by nine but was sloppy for the two or three possessions prior to the stoppage in play.

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“We have worked too hard here,” Lange said. “Everybody who’s been here – [assistants] Joe Burke, Eugene Burroughs, Jason Crafton – guys who have been here for multiple years. To have an attitude at the end of a game that is laissez-faire, in my opinion, [isn’t right]. I don’t care how it looked. I didn’t like the crossovers, all the stuff.”

And he said as much, quite vociferously. The message seemed to seep through; Navy won tonight to make it to 7-1, the school’s best start in 25 years.

“Your body, your mind don’t all of the sudden say ‘OK, we’re in front of 6,000 people in the Verizon Center playing Virginia Tech,’” Lange said. “You have to build a habit to do it. That’s all it was – you have to be kidding me. And that’s what I kept telling them in the huddle. I didn’t say one thing in the huddle, coaching-wise. I just kept telling them ‘You have to be kidding me.’”

Of course, the Midshipmen could have a lot of other people saying the same thing come Sunday when they play Virginia Tech in the BB&T Classic. Crazier things have happened in that event than a particularly enthused Navy team upending a high-profile opponent coming off its second buzzer-beating loss of the season.

Not saying it will happen. But something very good is quietly unfolding in Annapolis.

In its last 27 games, Navy is 20-7. In its previous 27 games, the Mids were 8-19.

(This stat, by the way, worked a lot better before tonight, when there was the symmetry of 19-7 and 7-19 over the last 26 games and the 26 games before that stretch. But the point remains).

“The difference between that 19-7 and the 7-19 is mentality, and I don’t want to ever see us go back to that,” Lange said. “We can lose. I certainly have no problem with that; that’s part of the job. It’s how you conduct yourself on the basketball floor, and that’s all it was.”

It’s been a nice run over nearly a calendar year. If it continues, Navy could wind up as one of American’s top challengers for the Patriot League title before its all said and done.

And, no, I’m not kidding you.

Patrick Stevens