WORCESTER, Mass. – Wednesday night’s game at Holy Cross looked all too familiar for Navy. A team that has not fared well in close games and came in with eight straight losses had another close call, but another one in the right-hand column as Holy Cross won 73-69.
“That’s the way it’s been. That’s the way all our games have been,” said head coach Ed DeChellis. “We have a chance to win with three or four minutes to go in the game and we just haven’t been able to do it.”
DeChellis took over the program last spring and has inherited a team with a lot of youth. The Midshipmen have three seniors, only two of whom play significant minutes, and start four sophomores. They bring four freshmen off the bench for significant minutes, along with two more sophomores. At times on Wednesday night, they looked like a young team with their play, but also at one point late that was clear.
There was a stoppage of play with almost three minutes left. Holy Cross headed over to the bench to talk things over while things got sorted out, but Navy’s players didn’t head over to their bench until the stoppage was almost over. It’s a relatively minor point, but that was a missed opportunity to go over something at a time when Holy Cross was almost finished with a decisive 9-0 run for a 65-56 lead.
There is some good talent among the young players. Sophomore forward J.J. Avila is breaking out as the team’s top scorer and rebounder, and the Midshipmen are trying to get him the ball often. Jordan Brickman, who actually sat out the last two seasons, has started 12 of the last 13 games at the point and appears to have settled in there. Sophomore Brennan Wyatt has acquitted himself well as a backup point guard. Worth Smith might be the best of the freshmen, as he has started six games and should be a fixture there given his versatility, while classmate Donya Jackson is athletic and clearly has a future with this team. Smith had a double-double on Wednesday with 13 points and 10 rebounds, going 3-5 from long range.
“We’ve got some good things to build upon,” said DeChellis. “We’re just young everywhere.”
Of late, the Midshipmen are showing signs of progress at the offensive end, an area DeChellis intimated leaves plenty of room for improvement. Evidence of that comes from the Midshipmen holding six opponents below 60 points on the season, but going just 2-4 in those games. After being turnover-prone early, they entered Wednesday’s game with 80 assists and 74 turnovers in the prior six games. They were even better on Wednesday, handing out 16 assists with just nine turnovers. It’s progress, but there was a down side even to that, as Holy Cross made them pay with 16 points off turnovers.
“We’re not an explosive offensive team, so we can’t give teams easy, unanswered points with turnovers in the backcourt, and that’s something we’ve done in this streak as well,” DeChellis added.
Part of the offensive struggles have likely come from adjusting to the coaching change. Navy is playing much slower this year than they did under former head coach Billy Lange. In fact, they have gone from playing one of the fastest paces to being near the bottom ten percent in Division I.
The Midshipmen have had some close calls during the losing streak. Not surprisingly, this young team hasn’t quite finished games at times, as nine of their 13 losses have been by single digits (they have won just two of those games). They are 0-4 in one-possession games. With experience, this team should eventually start to turn some of those losses into victories, but DeChellis knows it won’t happen simply by the advancement of time.
“You can’t just will it,” said the Navy mentor. “You’ve got to want it and you have to do what you have to do to be successful.”
When DeChellis made the move to Annapolis from Penn State, it drew plenty of attention last spring. In the end Navy should be the better for it given his track record at East Tennessee State and in Happy Valley. Right now there are some growing pains with the youth of this team, but there is some progress even if it’s not yet showing on the bottom line.