SMITHFIELD, R.I. – Ed DeChellis is trying to figure out what he has with his team. That’s normal for non-league play, as well as with the youth on this team, as Navy’s ticket to the NCAA Tournament is in the Patriot League. Non-league play is winding down, and there are still more final exams for his team to come, but he learned more about them in a tough way as they battled back before succumbing to Bryant 90-80 in overtime on Saturday.
With the youth and a need to find some complementary pieces, as well as a lack of practice time lately because of final exams, DeChellis has been giving many players a chance to prove themselves.
“I kind of just throw guys in there and see what we’ve got,” said DeChellis.
The Midshipmen seem to have a clear core on this team revolving around sophomore point guard Tilman Dunbar and big man Will Kelly, junior guard Brandon Venturini and forward Worth Smith. Other players have to fill in around them, and there are plenty of candidates, one of whom may have emerged on Saturday. The core players have also shown that while talented, they have work to do as well.
Kelly is perhaps the best example of that, as he is long and a plus athlete inside. He can become a nice presence for this team, which he showed at times with ten rebounds and two blocked shots on Saturday. But he also showed that he has a lot of room to improve offensively, as he struggled to finish near the basket and doesn’t possess much for post moves. The former was very costly in this game, as overtime began with him going up too strong a couple of times on point-blank layup opportunities. The extra session might have turned out differently if even one of those goes in the basket.
Although he needs to improve the offense, he also needs to want it. He can’t be content with being a defensive player.
“We’ve got to get him some more touches,” said DeChellis, now in his third year guiding the program. “We’re trying to get the ball to him a little bit, but he’s got to want it a little more.”
Smith showed promise as a freshman and improved last year. His scoring and rebounding numbers are up, and with his athleticism he can be a nice player, which he showed at times on Saturday with 14 points on 5-9 shooting and four blocked shots before fouling out. While the scoring and rebounding numbers are up some from last year, his shooting numbers are not.
Then there is Dunbar, the team’s floor leader. His numbers are up from his solid freshman campaign, and that was to be expected in part because he had to improve from his 38.1 percent shooting last year. While he had 14 points to go with nine assists against just two turnovers on Saturday, he was 6-15 from the field. DeChellis also knows he can be better, and the challenge is get that growth from him.
“I want more out of him,” said DeChellis. “He’s getting better showing some growth, but I want more.”
In Saturday’s tough loss, freshman guard Zach Fong was a big reason the game went to overtime. He nearly equaled his scoring total for the entire season coming into the game with 21 points on 7-10 shooting from long range. The seven three-pointers surpassed the six he had his all year coming into the game. He helped keep them in the game in the first half, then hit two big three-pointers late in regulation to help them rally to tie it.
“The last one, to tie it up, was a spectacular shot,” said Bryant head coach Tim O’Shea. “I’m just glad we didn’t foul him on it.”
Fong averages 7.4 minutes per game on the season, in part because he’s not a good defender. He played 20 minutes on Saturday and may have more games like that, perhaps depending on matchups. With the other personnel, he could be a good complementary shooter, especially since they aren’t loaded with such options. Kevin Alter and Grant Vermeer can shoot, while Venturini is a volume shooter, so in theory the door is open for Fong to have a larger role than he’s had thus far.
“We needed somebody who can shoot the basketball, we were flat,” said DeChellis. “We rode him as long as we could ride him.”
Defense is important for this team since the offense comes and goes. That’s partly a product of the team’s youth, and DeChellis talked about that noting that while they scored 80 points on Saturday, “we could score 40 next week.” They shoot less than 30 percent from long range, so Fong could help there, but they need to defend and that’s not something he helps with.
Navy will finish final exams over the next few days, then two games remain before Patriot League play commences. They head to Northern Kentucky and UMBC before opening up league play at newcomer Loyola (Md.), who they will also close out the slate with. Of the seven players who saw double-digit minutes on Saturday, none was a senior and three were freshmen. That’s a sign of what kind of growth this team needs to have, as well as what they still have to learn about themselves.