How do you begin to describe one of the most devastating losses in Navy men’s basketball history? Where do you start with explaining all that went wrong to cause the Midshipmen to blow a 27-point lead on their home court?
Junior forward Chris Mann scored 20 points and made several critical plays down the stretch and Army used a suffocating full-court press to totally turn around the game in rallying from a huge deficit to defeat Navy, 74-73, in overtime.
For the visiting Black Knights it was a gutsy, inspirational come-from-behind victory. For the host Midshipmen, it was an embarrassing collapse that stunned and silenced a once-raucous partisan crowd of 5,168 at Alumni Hall.
“Wow! It was a pretty incredible basketball game to be part of,” Army coach Jimmy Allen said. “It says a lot about the resiliency of our guys with the way they were able to continue to battle.”
Sophomore guard Jalen Rucker scored 17 points for the Black Knights, whose withering press steadily wore down the Midshipmen and produced a whopping 30 points off turnovers. Navy completely fell apart during the last 10 minutes of regulation and made it easy for Army to steadily whittle down the lead.
“We just took turns throwing the ball away to the other team. We had 20 turnovers and most of them we had no defense for because they were in the backcourt,” Navy coach Ed DeChellis said. “We turned the ball over and gave them layups or open looks on the perimeter and that was our demise. We just coughed the ball up. Guys were jumping up in the air and throwing the ball to nobody.”
Senior guard Josh Caldwell contributed 10 points and six steals for Army (12-8, 6-2), which is now tied atop the Patriot League standings with Loyola Maryland (12-7, 6-2). Senior guard Aaron Duhart added 13 points and four assists for the Black Knights.
Senior swingman John Carter Jr. scored 17 points to lead Navy (12-7, 5-3), which fell into a tie for third place with Lehigh. Senior point guard Greg Summers totaled 11 points, four rebounds and three blocked shots for the Midshipmen, who have lost three straight home games.
It was a historic result for Navy, setting the school record for largest blown lead in a loss. Ironically, it was Army that erased a 25-point deficit to defeat the archrival on Feb. 18, 2017.
Junior forward Daniel Deaver came off the bench to contribute 10 points and five rebounds for Navy, which dominated on both ends of the court in building the huge first-half lead. Junior forward Tyler Nelson threw down a spectacular tomahawk dunk to highlight a 20-0 run that put the Midshipmen in total command, 38-11, with four minutes remaining in the first half.
“I give Navy a ton of credit. They came out and were really aggressive and really physical. They made it hard for us to get shots,” Allen said. “We didn’t respond on the defensive end with the same kind of aggressiveness and physicality. It took us a while to get adjusted.”
Navy was on fire offensively and shooting a sizzling 80% (16-for-20) from the field at one point. Meanwhile, the defense was completely smothering Army, which had difficulty running its offense and was 4-for-19 (21%) from the field at one point.
Allen thinks the Black Knights began the turnaround toward the end of the first half when they went on a 7-0 run to cut the deficit to 20. Navy took a 40-18 lead into halftime, but Army had shown it could use the press to force turnovers and turn them into easy baskets.
“I thought the last two minutes of the first half were really crucial to give our guys a little bit of confidence going into the locker room,” Allen said. “We had a couple possessions with our press where we made some things happen. I thought that gave our guys some confidence that we could get after them in the full court.”
Navy handled the press early in the second half and basically traded baskets with Army for more than eight minutes. A layup by sophomore point guard Austin Inge gave the Mids a 53-31 lead with 11:46 remaining in the game and it appeared the Black Knights had no answers.
However, that was when the Midshipmen went into cruise control mode and pretty much tried to salt away the rest of the clock. Meanwhile, the Black Knights ramped up the press with heightened energy and intensity, making it hard for the home team to get the ball up the floor.
“As well as we played the first half, we played the second half the exact opposite,” DeChellis said. “Our execution in the first half was really good. We moved the ball and got good shots.
All of a sudden in the second half, we started playing at the bottom of the [shot] clock because we weren’t cutting, we weren’t screening, and we weren’t moving the ball. We started dribbling the ball way too much.”
While it made sense on some level to use as much of the shot clock as possible, the Midshipmen did so aimlessly without running offense. DeChellis said the coaching staff continued to call the same sets as the first half but the offense grew stagnant.
“We weren’t trying to milk [the clock}. We didn’t say ‘let’s take the air out of the ball and shoot late in the clock.’ That wasn’t the plan at all,” he said.
Rucker, Caldwell and Duhart were the catalysts as Army outscored Navy 32-7 to turn that 22-point deficit into a 63-60 lead with two minutes to go in regulation. A pair of free throws by Rucker put the Black Knights up 65-63 with 48 seconds left.
With the shot clock winding down on the ensuing Navy possession, DeChellis called timeout to set up a play. It worked to perfection with Summers taking a sideline out of bounds pass and exploding to the basket for a layup that tied the score at 65.
Army called timeout with 19 seconds to set up the last shot and Duhart got into the lane for a short jumper that bounced off the backboard and forced overtime.
“I thought the press changed the tempo of the game and gave our guys confidence. One of the reasons we were able to start getting open looks is because we were able to get the game playing in transition,” Allen said.
“We got some steals and got some stops and now the game starts to go up and down a little more. I thought our defense was so key with what changed this game.”
Navy led 73-70 after Summers made 1 of 2 free throws with 1:03 remaining in overtime. Mann pulled Army within one with two foul shots of his own then made a critical steal on the other end.
Nelson broke the press by dribbling across midcourt then inexplicably jumped in the air and tried to throw a soft pass to Carter. Mann picked off the ball and threw it ahead to Rucker for a breakaway layup that gave Army the 74-73 lead that would hold up.
Summers drove to the basket and seemingly had a layup to put Navy back ahead, but 6-foot-10 forward Matt Dove flew in from behind to block the shot with five-tenths of a second left. Navy threw an inbounds pass up for grabs and Nelson rose high to try to tap the ball toward the basket, but it fell harmlessly out of bounds.
“For our guys to respond in an atmosphere like this and be able to make plays and do the things to win the game… I’m really proud of them,” Allen said.
Wednesday, 7 p.m.