Since the suspension of sophomore point guard Tillman Dunbar prior to the Navy men's basketball team's 63-48 loss to UMBC on Dec. 30, junior Earl McLaurin started five games in Dunbar's place, averaging 3.4 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.2 steals while turning the ball over nine times.
Perhaps even more significantly, the Midshipmen went 1-4 during that stretch. On Wednesday night, they made a switch at point, shifting Brandon Venturini to that role, and the 6-foot, 184-pound junior finished with a game-high 14 points and a team-best four assists in the team’s 62-61 win over reigning regular-season champion Bucknell.
Navy also got 13 points and seven rebounds from junior forward Worth Smith and 10 points, three rebounds and two assists from freshman guard Zach Fong, but coach Ed DeChellis didn’t disagree with the notion that the offense benefited the most from Venturini’s performance.
“Venturini, we moved to the point because we were playing a young guy, and we’re still trying to figure things out,” DeChellis said Thursday afternoon. “Venturini is a guy who we wanted to put the ball in his hands more, which was positive for us. They have to guard him because he can shoot the ball and he throws the ball very nicely to the basket. He came off some action and got the ball to the basket, which is important for us. We tried to play some guys where everybody can shoot the ball a little bit and we’re a little more maybe offensively potent. So we tried to put some guys who can all shoot on the floor at the same time. So I think we were a little more challenging to guard. Our point guard play, that’s where people did not fear us offensively. They’ve been able to clog some things up and not play our point guards to shoot and so forth, which may make it more difficult for the other guys on the floor. So we tried to play a little differently last night, and it was successful.”
Speaking of Dunbar, his indefinite suspension was extended to the remainder of the season. The team’s leader in scoring and assists, Dunbar will be permitted to remain with the team and could return in the future.
DeChellis acknowledged that Dunbar’s status removed a cloud of uncertainty surrounding the point guard and the team.
“I think we had some guys play a little bit better last night,” DeChellis said. “I think we were always kind of looking [and saying], ‘OK, what’s going to happen when this young guy can come back to the team?’ and so forth. So there is some finality. We know the outcome, we know what we need to do. I think the kids did a nice job of banding together last night and performing and raising their games. We needed a better effort from some guys and they did a nice job with that.”