For a long time, Navy men’s basketball could not find a way to beat Bucknell. The Bison won 19 of 20 meetings from 2011 through 2019.
However, Navy has managed to turn the tide over the last five seasons — in a big way. The Midshipmen have now won nine straight over the Bison. Senior forward Daniel Deaver had his third straight stellar outing with team-highs of 20 points, six rebounds and six assists as Navy used a strong second half to beat Bucknell, 71-65, before an announced crowd of 1,207 at Alumni Hall.
Senior guard Sean Yoder totaled 18 points, five rebounds and five assists for Navy (14-11, 7-6 Patriot League), which has won six of its last seven to move into the upper half of the conference standings.
“Our seniors, Deaver and Yoder, were really good tonight. We put them in a lot of two-man action tonight and Sean did a really nice job of delivering the ball to [Deaver],” Navy coach Ed DeChellis said. “Those two guys have been playing well with the pick-and-rolls.”
DeChellis praised the recent play of Deaver, who has turned things around since spending most of the second half of a Jan. 28 game against American on the bench.
“Deaver’s a guy that we play through, so when he’s playing well I think we’re pretty good offensively,” DeChellis said.
Deaver, who was named Patriot League Player of the Week on Monday after averaging 25.5 points and 12.5 rebounds in two games, made 10 of 15 field goals. An undersized post at 6-foot-7, Deaver did most of his damage down low against 7-foot-1 Andre Screen and 6-foot-10 Alex Timmerman.
“I have to give a lot of credit to my guards, specifically Sean. We’re calling the right plays to get me wide-open layups and my teammates are finding me in the right spots,” said Deaver, calling it “an awesome challenge” to score inside against much taller opponents.
Senior forward Tyler Nelson contributed 14 points for the Midshipmen, who outscored the Bison 39-28 in the second half. Senior swingman Patrick Dorsey added eight points and four boards for Navy, which won at home for the first time since beating Boston University on Jan. 18.
Screen totaled 14 points and eight rebounds for Bucknell (10-16, 3-10). Timmerman had 12 points and nine rebounds for the Bison, who were outscored 46-32 in the paint. Coach Nathan Davis, a former Navy assistant under Don DeVoe, was disappointed with the interior defense against Deaver.
“[Deaver] has been around and knows how to finish around the basket,” Davis said. “They made us pay for the mistakes we made defensively. We weren’t doing a good job of defending the dribble handoffs and our help side also wasn’t there.”
A 3-pointer by freshman forward Ruot Bijiek gave Bucknell a 48-41 lead at the 14:19 mark of the second half. The Bison then turned the ball over on their next three possessions and the Mids turned each of them into points.
Freshman guard Austin Benigni made a steal and hit a pull-up jumper in the lane, then senior guard Christian Jones made a steal and threw the ball ahead to Yoder for a breakaway layup.
Jones, an Annapolis High graduate, got the home fans fired up by making another steal near mid-court and taking the ball to the basket for an uncontested two-hand dunk.
“We started to turn up the pressure on them and that gave us energy and kind of killed their spirit,” said Deaver.
DeChellis agreed the three-quarter-court press changed the momentum of the game and noted that Navy scored 20 points off turnovers. Davis was disappointed with the way the Bison responded to that stretch.
“We had those three straight turnovers when we were up seven and that changed the momentum of the game. It got them off their heels and they became the more aggressive team,” Davis said. “I think we didn’t respond very well to the adversity.”
Navy outscored Bucknell, 24-7, in a little over nine minutes to turn that seven-point deficit into a 10-point lead, 65-55, with 4:45 remaining in the game.
“It really comes down to our experience. We start four seniors and have other seniors coming off the bench,” Deaver said. “Even when we’re down late in the game, I have full confidence we’re going to out-execute when it comes down to the high-pressure minutes.”
DeChellis, in his 12th season at Navy, was on the sidelines for the entire 1-19 stretch against Bucknell. Winning a few games in the series erased the mystique of the Bison and none of the current Midshipmen even know about the lengthy losing streaks in the series.
“It was hard. We lost some games to them that we should never have lost. We got down to the end and it was like, what’s going to go wrong? That’s because it was in the back of our minds that we hadn’t beaten them,” DeChellis said. “Our kids now believe they can [beat Bucknell].”