In 1947, the Midshipmen went 16-1 and earned their first NCAA Tournament bid, earning head coach Ben Carnevale National Coach of the Year honors.
During the next 19 seasons, Carnevale led the Mids into the postseason five more times — including four NCAA appearances — compiling a record of 257-160 (.616).
In 1954, Navy reached the Elite Eight for the first time, losing to eventual national champion La Salle. But that was in the days of a 24-team NCAA Tournament field.
In 1985, a year after Robinson’s freshman season, the tournament expanded to 64 teams. Navy, which had been left out of the 1984 tournament despite a 24-8 record, made its first tournament appearance since 1960.
They entered the tournament with a 25-5 record and the 13th seed in the Southeast Regional.
“I didn’t think we could blow out anybody,” head coach Paul Evans said. “But I thought we could play with anybody.”
And it was a blowout.
Robinson, Vernon Butler and Dave Wojcik combined for 56 points and 30 rebounds to lead Navy’s 78-55 victory against No. 4-seeded LSU, the SEC regular-season champion.
One of the most memorable bracket busters of all-time, Navy’s victory is credited for ushering in March Madness. As such, it’s the sports moment judged the greatest in Navy history.
“It wasn’t a fluke,” LSU head coach Dale Brown said after the game. “The points are almost incredible. They totally dominated us. You have moments of embarrassment. That’s what it is.”
Butler, a 6-7, 235-pound forward, made all 10 of his free throws and paced Navy with 20 points. Robinson accounted for 18 points and 18 rebounds.
“They’ll probably say LSU stunk, Navy lucked out,” Evans said after the game. “But we played like we had to play.”
Navy connected on 34 of 43 free throws, including 24 of 29 in the second half.
“I think one of the things that might have been a problem for LSU was that I don’t think they had any idea how well our kids could play — I think they just thought they would walk through that game,” Evans said in 2013.
While Navy lost to No. 5-seeded Maryland, 64-59, in the second round, the entire starting lineup returned in 1986 and reached the Elite Eight. The Midshipmen knocked off No. 2 Syracuse 97-85 in the second round and lost to eventual runner-up Duke, 75-51, in the East Regional final.
During Robinson’s career, Navy reeled off an unprecedented four 20-win seasons in a row, compiling a 106-25 (.809) record from 1983-87.
They accomplished something else.
“Navy, which is such a big football school, really got behind the basketball team,” Evans said, “and it really became a priority during those years.”
On the cover and above: Navy’s 1985-86 men’s basketball team. After upsetting LSU in the 1985 NCAA Tournament, the Midshipmen reached the Elite Eight in 1986. (Courtesy U.S. Naval Academy Archives)
THIS WEEK’S GREATEST MOMENTS
• Monday: Middle Tennessee and Milwaukee
• Tuesday: Minnesota Duluth and Minnesota State
• Wednesday: Missouri-Kansas City and Morehead State
• Thursday: Murray State and Navy
• Friday: Nebraska Omaha and New Hampshire