Navy men’s basketball coach Ed DeChellis has become increasingly concerned about midweek home games.
Navy’s worst Patriot League loss this season — 69-50 to Colgate — came on a Thursday night. DeChellis has noticed a trend in recent seasons and does not like it.
The 11th-year coach cites several possible factors, most of which are associated with the academic and military demands of the Naval Academy. DeChellis noted that his players are sometimes getting out of class later in the afternoon than years past and it has impacted the typical pregame routine of the Midshipmen.
By contrast, when Navy basketball plays on the road it departs the night before games and therefore players have more time to focus on basketball.
Nothing that happened Wednesday night at Alumni Hall eased the coach’s worries on that front. The Midshipmen looked lackluster and out of sync on both ends of the court in suffering their second straight home loss.
Junior guard Evan Taylor scored 18 points to lead four players in double figures and visiting Lehigh led for the entire second half in beating Navy, 69-61, before an announced crowd of 701.
Freshman guard Keith Higgins Jr. added 14 points, while senior forward Jeameril Nelson posted a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds for the Mountain Hawks, who took the ball strong to the basket and wound up making 17 of 25 free throws as a result.
“I’m not making any excuses. We have to play better, first of all. We have to play better offensively and defensively,” said DeChellis, who nonetheless bemoaned the inability to maintain the basic pregame routine when Navy is playing at home.
“I’m not saying we would play better; I would just feel better if we could connect with our kids during the day and get shots up before the game.”
Navy is now 4-4 at home with one of the wins coming against overmatched Division III opponent Washington College. Meanwhile, the Midshipmen are 8-2 on the road — a dramatic difference DeChellis attributes to players getting properly fed, having plenty of rest and suffering “no stress.”
“We got no routine [at home],” said DeChellis, who said he might have to use the academy lunch break to get the players into the practice gym at Halsey Field House.
The veteran coach was also anxious to perform a thorough statistical breakdown of Navy’s performance in various categories in home and road games.
“I bet the numbers are astounding between home and the road,” he said. “We’ve got to figure out this home thing. I don’t have the answer, but I better figure it out real quick.”
Navy only had one day to prepare for Lehigh after getting stranded following a Sunday afternoon road game at Boston University. The Midshipmen did not get back to Annapolis until Monday night because of the overnight snowstorm.
“In fairness to our guys, this was a one-day prep,” DeChellis said.
Freshman guard Tyler Whitney-Sidney netted six of his 11 points from the free-throw line as Lehigh (7-12, 5-2) moved into a four-way tie atop the Patriot League standings.
Senior point guard Greg Summers scored 12 points and dished off four assists before fouling out to lead Navy (12-6, 5-2), which is also tied for first place along with Army West Point and Loyola Maryland.
Junior forward Daniel Deaver totaled 10 points and seven rebounds for the Midshipmen, who shot 34% (24-for-70) from the field and a dismal 8-for-18 from the free-throw line.
“We didn’t make any baskets. When you shoot that poorly from the field and the free throw line, it’s hard to win,” DeChellis said.
Marques Wilson banked in a 3-pointer from half-court to give Lehigh a 34-30 halftime lead. Higgins hit two shots from beyond the arc and a jumper in the lane as the Mountain Hawks outscored the Mids 14-7 to start the second half and increase the lead to 11 points.
Navy had to play catch-up the rest of the way and just could not string together enough defensive stops or offensive runs to get closer than six over the final 15 minutes of the game.
After studying the box score, DeChellis was dismayed that the Midshipmen pulled down 16 offensive rebounds and only converted those into five second-chance points.
“How do you have 16 offensive rebounds and five second-chance points? I really don’t know,” he said. “I’ll have to watch [the tape] tomorrow to figure it out.”
Lehigh has impressive length at every position and was extremely physical on the defensive end. Coach Brett Reed was impressed with how the Mountain Hawks contained dribble penetration, clogged the passing lanes and contested shots.
Lehigh finished with eight blocked shots with Taylor and backup forward Dominic Parolin totaling three apiece.
“I was really pleased. It was a hard-fought win against a Navy team that always plays tough defense and rebounds. I thought we answered the call,” said Reed, in his 15th season at the Bethlehem school. “They tried to establish themselves early with some tough, physical play and we responded. We knew we had to match their toughness and physicality.”
Senior swingman John Carter Jr., Navy’s leading scorer, made just 3 of 14 field goals in scoring 11 points. Two other starters – senior center Richard Njoku and junior guard Sean Yoder – were a combined 3-for-13 from the field. Normally reliable reserves Patrick Dorsey and Jaylen Walker made 3 of 12 shots between them as the Mids did way too much dribbling.
“Nothing was fluid. We just stood around and watched guys go one-on-one,” DeChellis said. “We’ve got cutting action we’re supposed to do and move the damn ball inside-outside or side-to-side.”
Navy will have two days to get ready for archrival Army, which come to Alumni Hall on Saturday (1:30 p.m.) for a contest being televised by CBS Sports Network. It is the back end of a doubleheader with the Black Knights and Midshipmen meeting in women’s basketball beginning at 11 a.m.
Senior guard Jennifer Coleman put forth another strong all-around performance with 26 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists as Navy women’s basketball was blown out by Lehigh, 99-65 Wednesday night.
Sophomore forward Sydne Watts was the only other play in double figures with 15 points for the Midshipmen (5-12, 2-5), who have lost three of their last four.
Saturday, 1:30 p.m.
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