Ed DeChellis has been preaching defense as the key to success ever since he arrived in Annapolis to take over the Navy men’s basketball program in the summer of 2011.
Now in his 11th season as head coach, DeChellis may finally have a team that meets his exacting standards on the defensive end of the floor.
These Midshipmen absolutely get into opponents and make it extremely difficult to score. Led by long, athletic perimeter players like John Carter Jr., Greg Summers, Jaylen Walker and Tyler Nelson, the Mids get hands in passing lanes, challenge shots and generally harass ballhandlers and shooters.
Carter scored 16 points to lead three players in double figures and Navy delivered another defensive gem in beating William & Mary, 75-56, Wednesday night at Alumni Hall. Walker added 15 points and seven rebounds for the Midshipmen (6-2), who have won five in a row.
Defense has been the story during that winning streak with Navy holding Radford to 33 points on 23.6 % field goal shooting and limiting Mount St. Mary’s to 40 points on 23.4 % shooting. Furman, which is averaging 85 points per game and upset Louisville, only managed 66 points against the Midshipmen.
William & Mary got a taste of how suffocating the Navy defense is during Wednesday night’s contest. The Tribe made just 19 of 52 field goals (36 %) and committed 18 turnovers. The Colonial Athletic Association member became the latest team to struggle shooting 3-pointers against the Midshipmen, going 5-for-18 from beyond the arc.
William & Mary joined several previous opponents in enduring a lengthy scoreless stretch against Navy. The Tribe did not score a single point for more than eight minutes, a drought that started with 44 seconds left in first half and ended at the 12:38 mark of second half.
Navy has held two other opponents to longer scoreless stretches, including Virginia (8:30) during a season-opening upset. It also marked the 11th time in eight games the Mids have held an opponent without points for four minutes or more.
Summers had a strong all-around game with 12 points, seven rebounds and six assists for Navy, which scored 29 points off all those William & Mary turnovers. Nelson and frontcourt mate Richard Njoku added eight points apiece for the Mids, who opened the second half on a 12-0 run to build a double-digit lead and were never threatened the rest of the way.
Freshman center Langdon Hatton scored 17 points and freshman guard Tyler Rice added 16 for struggling William & Mary (1-7), which was outscored 42-20 in the paint. Sophomore guard Connor Kochera, the Tribe’s second-leading scorer, attempted just one field goal in totaling four points.
Navy now ranks No. 1 in the Patriot League and eighth nationally in scoring defense, allowing only 55.9 points per game. The Midshipmen are first in the Patriot League and 35th in the NCAA in field goal percentage defense with opponents shooting 38.2 percent.
DeChellis did not hesitate when asked if this is the best defensive team of his 11-year tenure at Navy, blurting out “yes” before the question was even finished. The Midshipmen employ a rotation loaded by seniors and juniors who understand how important defense is to the veteran coach with four decades of experience in college basketball.
“I think the seniors have done a really good job of buying into it. We’ve had some success and they see what we can do defensively. We can turn teams over and we can be physical,” DeChellis said. “I think they really believe we can be really, really good defensively.”
It starts with Carter and Summers, both of whom are 6-foot-4 with long arms and superb footwork. Nelson is 6-foot-6 but plays much taller thanks to a wide wingspan and also possesses outstanding quickness. The 6-foot-7, 235-pound Njoku was named to the Patriot League All-Defensive team last season.
“We have more speed, length and overall athleticism, so we can contain the ball better than we have in the past. We can get our hands on balls and cover a lot of ground,” DeChellis said.
Depth is another factor as DeChellis is currently utilizing a 10-man rotation. Nine players saw 12 minutes or more against William & Mary with frontcourt reserve Nate Allison injecting good energy during his 7 ½ minutes on the floor.
DeChellis thought starting forward Daniel Deaver looked sluggish on the defensive end to start Wednesday night’s game and quickly replaced him with Njoku.
“If you’re not guarding, you’re coming out. You get blown by defensively, you’re sitting on the bench,” DeChellis said. “We’re trying to hold guys accountable. We’re a deeper team, so I can do it.”
Walker, who is 6-5 with long arms and quick feet, said the coaching staff has emphasized an even more aggressive style of defense since the start of preseason practice. With experienced personnel who trust the system and understand help defense, DeChellis wanted the Mids jumping passing lanes and crowding dribblers to prevent drives to the basket.
“Sometimes we have stretches when we might not be able to score, and we always come back to our defense. We don’t let our offense dictate our defense. We pride ourselves on our defense anchoring us,” Walker said. “It’s exciting to stop a team multiple possessions in a row. We fuel ourselves on defense to get points on the other end.”
Now that Navy has proved it truly is elite defensively, DeChellis is planning to be even more ambitious. The Midshipmen showed some full-court pressure against the Tribe and will do so more often as the season goes along.
“We may try some halfcourt trap and try to score off our defense,” DeChellis said.
Navy has yet to capture a Patriot League Tournament championship during the DeChellis era and this team certainly is capable. That is why the coaching staff is pushing the Mids to reach their full potential.
William & Mary traded baskets with Navy for most of the first half and that irritated DeChellis, who said afterward that “I got into them at halftime a bit and they came out in the second half and played better defensively.”
Indeed, William & Mary struggled to run its offense and get an open shot during that decisive stretch to start the second half.
“Most coaches would be happy with winning five in a row, happy with a 19-point win. Nah, we can play a heck of a lot better,” DeChellis said. “I think we have a chance to be a really good basketball team in the long run and that’s what I’m pushing these guys toward.”
Navy is only going to get deeper when two of its top returning players rejoin the rotation. Austin Inge, who projected as the starting point guard, has only played in three games and sat out Wednesday night because he remains tentative in practice due to a lingering toe injury.
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Junior guard Patrick Dorsey, whose versatility and ability to stuff the stat sheet were key to last season’s success, has yet to suit up. DeChellis is hoping Dorsey can begin practicing in a week or so.