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Navy men’s basketball suffers first Patriot League loss, 87-78 to Army in OT, as nine-game winning streak ends

It took until the fourth weekend of play, but the Navy men’s basketball team finally dropped a Patriot League game. The determined Midshipmen did not go down easily.

On a day it did not play well on either end of the floor, Navy showed enough grit and toughness to fight back from a five-point deficit and force archrival Army into overtime.

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Turnovers and missed shots doomed the Midshipmen in the extra session and their nine-game winning streak came to an end at the hands of the visiting Black Knights.

Senior guard Lonnie Grayson scored 19 points to lead a balanced attack and Army dominated in overtime to pull out a hard-fought 87-78 victory on Sunday at Alumni Hall. Grayson made five free throws in the final 41 seconds as the Black Knights outscored the Mids 16-7 in the extra session.

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Freshman point guard Jalen Rucker scored 18 points and dished off four assists for Army (9-4, 5-3), which never trailed during regulation. Senior guard Josh Caldwell contributed 15 points for the Black Knights, who made 12 of 14 free throws in overtime.

Senior forward Nick Finke totaled 10 points and seven rebounds for Army, which rebounded well after losing the Star game on Saturday. Senior forward Alex King added nine points and 11 rebounds for the Black Knights, who are 4-0 in games following a loss this season.

“I thought today, for a lot of reasons, was a gut check for both teams. I was incredibly proud of how our guys responded. I thought our guys came out ready to go,” Army coach Jimmy Allen said. “I’ve been incredibly pleased with the mental toughness of our team and how they’ve responded when we haven’t played well. We’ve been able to bounce back.”

Junior forward Richard Njoku scored 13 points, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked two shots to lead Navy (10-2, 7-1), which shot 38.5% from the field and committed 14 turnovers. Sophomore forward Patrick Dorsey also totaled 13 points and seven boards for the Midshipmen, whose last loss came Nov. 27 at Maryland.

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“We didn’t play our best game. We didn’t do the things we spoke about this morning,” Navy coach Ed DeChellis said. “We didn’t guard the basketball very well one-on-one. We just were not a focused group defensively. We didn’t get great shots and didn’t shoot the ball well. We weren’t very good offensively.”

Caldwell, Grayson and Rucker did most of the damage as Army seemed determined to take the ball to the basket. The Midshipmen could not stay in front of those three guards and wound up committing 28 fouls. The Black Knights made 28 of 36 free throws.

“You can’t let a team get to the free-throw line 36 times. When you foul that many times … that was really the tale of the game,” DeChellis said. “We didn’t get to the line, they got to the line. That was really the difference in the ballgame.”

Rucker, a Baltimore native, was clutch at the charity stripe, going 7-for-7. The Gilman product was relentless driving the ball and did not commit a turnover.

“He’s special — a guy that makes tough plays, tough shots. He certainly stepped up tonight,” Allen said of Rucker. “I thought a lot of our guys stepped up in different situations tonight to help us get the win.”

Army was out-rebounded 42-29 in Saturday’s loss to Navy and that angered Allen. The Black Knights were much more competitive on the boards Sunday, only getting beaten 48-40.

“I thought we did a more consistent job on the defensive glass, which helped us get out in transition,” said Allen, whose squad also scored 17 points off turnovers.

Navy captain and leading scorer Cam Davis had another subpar game, scoring 13 points on 4-for-19 shooting. The 6-foot combo guard dished off six assists but was 2-for-7 from 3-point range.

DeChellis answered “a little of both” when asked if it was a case of Army doing good job of defending Davis or simply the senior missing open shots.

“It’s hard when your name is on the top of the scouting report. Cam is now the focus, and rightfully so because he’s a good basketball player,” DeChellis said. “Offensively, we were out of sync. We were shooting at the bottom of the clock on several possessions. He got stuck with the ball sometimes and had to take tough shots.”

Junior guard Greg Summers, who led the Mids with 17 points Saturday, made just four of 10 field goals. Sophomore forward Tyler Nelson was another starter that struggled shooting the ball, going 2-for-8.

“I don’t think we played our best game individually. We had several guys not play as well as they can,” DeChellis said.

Navy, which trailed by 10 points with just under 10 minutes remaining in the first half, overcame its offensive and defensive issues to stay within reach. Army led 66-61 with 2:34 remaining in regulation when the home team resorted to fouling to shorten the clock.

After Finke missed the front end of a one-and-one, Dorsey drained a 3-pointer to get Navy within two. Backup point guard Aaron Duhart made two free throws, but Dorsey responded with a nice drive into the lane for a short runner that cut the deficit to 68-66 with 24 seconds to go.

Caldwell finally missed a free throw with 15 seconds left and Davis came downcourt and coolly swished a pullup jumper from the free-throw line to tie the score. Davis then blocked a Rucker shot at the other end to send the game into overtime.

The Black Knights could have been shaken by the sudden turn of events, but instead never blinked. “I thought our response to the game going to overtime was terrific,” Allen said.

Sophomore guard Sean Yoder threw an entry pass out of bounds and Davis had an ill-advised pass through traffic picked off. Davis missed a pair of short jumpers and Yoder was off target on a 3-point attempt as the Mids did not get it done offensively in the extra session.

“We had two terrible turnovers in overtime. You don’t have that many possessions in overtime. You can’t turn it over twice,” DeChellis said.

Yoder played 25 minutes since starting swingman John Carter Jr. was sidelined with an ankle injury. He responded with 11 points and five rebounds. Summers had team highs of nine rebounds and seven assists.

While disappointed to taste defeat for the first time in almost two months, DeChellis was impressed with the resiliency the Midshipmen showed on a day they did not bring their best.

“We wound up doing what we needed to do to tie the game and get it to overtime,” he said. “I think we have a lot of fight and resolve. We’ve got resiliency. I’m proud of my team, proud of the effort.”

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