JOHNSTOWN - The St. Francis men's basketball program hasn't enjoyed many perfect nights in a long, long time, but the Cambria County War Memorial provided one Monday.
Any time St. Francis wins a game it's big. The Red Flash started last year 0-11 and 1-19, so Monday's 60-57 win over Navy that wasn't decided until the final seconds gave the program a much-needed early-season boost.
"For them to come in and win a game like this, especially that was tight down to the wire, was very important as we build our confidence," SFU coach Rob Krimmel said.
The Johnstown and Cambria County region made the evening even more special as a stellar crowd of 2,838 showed up on Veterans Day for the game against the Naval Academy. That's more than double a typical crowd for an SFU home game at DeGol Arena.
"Great atmosphere," Krimmel said. "The War Memorial did a great job putting on a great show."
"That's what we were hoping for - 2,500 or above. That's what our dream was," St. Francis athletic director Bob Krimmel said. "We hope they'll want us back because we'd love to come back every year."
There's no doubt officials in Johnstown would like to see the Red Flash return.
"I want them back badly," War Memorial Arena general manager Tom Grenell said. "The wow factor is understated."
"We want them back. That would be great for the whole community," Cambria County Commissioner Tom Chernisky said.
The game itself was a tightly contested affair between evenly matched teams, with neither able to pull away by any comfortable margin. It was neck and neck late, and Navy tied it at 57 on a bucket inside by Will Kelly with 1:13 remaining.
Rob Krimmel called timeout with 1:03 left to design a play. He wanted point guard Malik Harmon, who had a game-high 20 points, to penetrate and look to either score or to kick it to forward Earl Brown or guard Dom Major.
Harmon instead dished it off on his right to Greg Brown, who hadn't taken a shot all night. Brown caught it and slashed his way to the hoop before banking home a shot. He also was fouled by Kelly and hit the free throw for a 60-57 lead.
"It's a great play by Malik," Greg Brown said. "The first couple options broke down, and that's why I'm here, just to be another option on the court."
Navy (0-2) missed a shot on its next possession but got a break when Harmon was whistled for an offensive foul on a pushoff with 23 seconds left. Navy coach Ed DeChellis called timeout to set up a play, but when his team got into its offense, it clearly appeared to be disorganized trying to run the play.
DeChellis let it play out instead of calling another timeout to regroup, and all his team could manage was a low-percentage runner on the left baseline by Tilman Dunbar that missed badly.
DeChellis wasn't happy that his team made "very, very foolish plays," but he's trying to build a program that, like St. Francis, has had a very tough time winning games.
"You've got to win to get confidence," DeChellis said. "You can't just sprinkle magic dust on them and say, 'Now you've got confidence.'"
Earl Brown had 11 points and nine rebounds for SFU (1-1), while Ronnie Drinnon had 10 points off the bench. Worth Smith led Navy with 16 points.
"It's definitely a big confidence booster," Greg Brown said of the win.
"As a staff, as coaches, it validates a little bit some of the things we're teaching and talking about," Rob Krimmel said.