Freshman guard Austin Benigni came off the bench to score a career-high 22 points to lead Navy men’s basketball to a convincing 80-67 victory over Youngstown State on Sunday afternoon at Alumni Hall.
Coming on the heels of Friday night’s 78-69 overtime victory over UC-San Diego, Navy improved to 4-1 this season.
Prior to Sunday, Benigni had only seen limited action at point guard in Navy’s first four games, averaging 13 minutes and three points per contest. However, junior starter Austin Inge was hit in the face early in the first half and head coach Ed DeChellis called on Benigni to run the floor against the more veteran and physical opponent.
“I’m sure he wasn’t at the top of their scouting report. He’s got a lot of moxie to him. He’s got a lot of toughness to him,” DeChellis said of Benigni, who according to the coach has been fighting a foot injury. “He’s had some really good days [in practice], but hasn’t had the same pop. He had no pain today. He was moving pretty quickly and getting to the basket.”
Benigni admitted he was caught a bit off guard by the early minutes and didn’t know if Inge would be returning to the game.
“I was definitely tired after the first five or six minutes I was in there; I was worn out,” he said.
It sure didn’t appear that Benigni was exhausted as the Navy offense was on fire during the time he was running the show, hitting 8 of 11 shots from beyond the arc to start the game. Most of the contributions were coming from the bench. In addition to Benigni’s 10 points on 4-for-4 shooting, Patrick Dorsey and Nate Allison were perfect from the field as they contributed 12 points in the first 20 minutes.
Youngstown State, which had three graduate students along with a senior in the starting lineup, came out in the second half applying full-court pressure and with renewed energy under the basket.
However, fifth-year senior guard Malek Green, who led the Penguins with 16 points, picked up his second and third fouls and went to the bench with Navy leading 47-40. It was a pivotal point in the game as Navy scored the next 18 points to take a commanding 25-point lead.
“We thought we had to keep the game in the 60s. [Youngstown State ] was really athletic. They were older guys,” said DeChellis. “The beauty of our team is we have a lot of different pieces. We have a second wave that we bring in and there is no real drop off.”
All told, that second wave, which featured 15 points by Dorsey, outscored Youngstown State’s bench, 55-15.
“That was the game,” said DeChellis, who also acknowledged that his freshman point guard earned more playing time after his breakout game.
“It was a great performance. He’s a tough competitive kid. He took a couple of charges. He wants to compete — that’s what you want in a point guard,” DeChellis said.
When asked what part of his performance he was most proud of, the plebe point guard said it wasn’t the scoring.
“I would say the assists and charges that I took. That’s something I pride myself on — just being able to get my teammates involved and willing to step in there and do the dirty work a little bit — not scared to take a hit,” Benigni said.
With just under nine minutes left in the game, Youngstown State (4-2) cut the Navy lead to 15 points, but senior guard Sean Yoder scored the next six points and Navy was able to hit free throws down the stretch to put the game away.
Mount St. Mary’s at Navy
Saturday, 11 a.m.
Radio: 1430 am, 1500 am