The Navy mens and womans teams both play Army in a double header at Navy in Annapolis.
And a child shall lead them.
That passage from the Old Testament seemed appropriate on a Sunday afternoon when a baby-faced freshman was the difference-maker in the Army-Navy men’s basketball game.
Rookie forward Alex King caught fire in the first half and sparked the Black Knights to a lead they would never relinquish in handing the Midshipmen a humbling defeat on their home court.
King scored 15 of his 17 points in the first half and Army pretty much led wire-to-wire in beating Navy, 64-62, before a sellout crowd of 5,710 at Alumni Hall. The skinny 6-foot-8 Indiana native showed no nerves in his debut against the archrival, making 7 of 10 field goals with most coming on smooth jumpers from the perimeter.
“Alex is a very talented basketball player. He has a really high basketball IQ, picks stuff up very quickly, and I think that’s why he’s been able to progress over the course of the year,” Army head coach Jimmy Allen said. “He came out and was pretty comfortable shooting the basketball. He got into the zone and gave us a huge lift.”
King, who comes off the bench, entered the game tied for third on the team in scoring with 11.2 points per game. Navy head coach Ed DeChellis said his squad knew all about the Columbus North High graduate, who wore No. 32 on Sunday even though he normally wears No. 35.
“Trust me, (King) was on the scouting report. We talked about him for a day and a half, that he was a very good player and could score the ball,” DeChellis said. “We let him get it going. King is a very good player.”
Sophomore guard Tommy Funk scored 12 points to lead a balanced attack for Army, which never trailed. Junior guard Jordan Fox added 11 points for the Black Knights (11-6, 4-2), who shot 52.3 percent from the field for the game and led for a 38 ½ of the 40 minutes.
“I was really pleased with our performance overall. I thought we did a lot of really good things,” Allen said. “In the first half we did a solid job of executing what we wanted to do. We were getting good shots and knocking them down. We also did a good job of just staying composed.”
Senior swingman Shawn Anderson overcame a blow to the face to score 24 points for Navy, which fell behind by 15 points in the first half and trailed by double digits for much of the game. Anderson, who needed nine stitches to close a wound on his nose, went 10-for-10 from the free throw line in the second half.
Anderson, who has been bothered by nagging hip and knee ailments, also grabbed eight rebounds and snatched three steals.
“I’m really, really proud of Shawn considering what he’s been through,” DeChellis said. “It’s been very hard on him because he hasn’t been able to practice much, but I thought he played a whale of a game today and really kept us in it during the second half.”
Junior forward George Kiernan came off the bench to total 13 points and nine rebounds for Navy (12-7, 3-3), which shot just 32 percent (19-for-59) and committed 18 turnovers. Senior forward Tom Lacey contributed nine points and nine rebounds for the Midshipmen, who were a woeful 4 of 22 from 3-point range.
“Offensively, we didn’t play well. It’s hard shooting 32 percent from the floor and 18 percent from three. We just couldn’t score, couldn’t make a basket,” DeChellis said. “We had guys that play a lot of minutes shooting 1-for-7 and 1-for-8. It’s amazing to me that we lost by two. Those numbers say you shouldn’t even be in the game. So our kids did something right and I’m proud of them for that.”
Because of their shooting struggles, the Midshipmen did make a concerted effort get the ball inside – either by throwing it into the post players or taking it strong to the rim. Navy finished 20 for 22 from the foul line with Anderson and Kiernan (7-8) doing most of the damage.
“In the second half, I thought Shawn did a great job of driving to the basket and getting fouled,” DeChellis said. “George just rebounded the ball really hard and got fouled.”
Army forced a fast pace at times, but ultimately Allen thought Navy controlled the tempo. The Black Nights were held 10 points below their season scoring average and the final result was in the range the Midshipmen had hoped it would be.
“Defensively, we weren’t horrible. You hold them to 64 points you think you have a chance to win,” DeChellis said. “They shot a high percentage though. Give credit to Army. They shared the ball, made open shots and beat us.”
Navy made up for its poor shooting by attacking the offensive backboards. The Midshipmen finished with 19 offensive rebounds, which they turned into 13 second-chance points.
“As the game wore on, they were able to get the ball inside more and they really hurt us on the glass,” Allen said. “They’re a phenomenal offensive rebounding team – as good as I’ve seen – and gave us some major problems.”
It was the first home loss in Patriot League play for Navy, which fell into a three-way tie for fifth place in the standings. The Midshipmen have been limited to 63 points or less in all three of their conference setbacks.
“As a team, from me to the last guy on the bench, we just have to play harder. I think we have to increase our intensity and it starts with the seniors,” Anderson said. “I think the seniors need to start setting the tempo for what this team can do because we have a very high ceiling, but we’re not playing to our potential.”
King made 6 of 8 field goals, including three 3-pointers, in scoring 15 points to stake Army to a 35-23 halftime advantage. King’s third basket from beyond the arc gave Army its largest lead (33-18) with 1:18 remaining in the half.
Lacey turned an offensive rebound into a follow basket, drew a foul and converted the three-point play to spark a 7-2 run that cut the deficit to 12 at intermission. Allen was pleased with Army’s defensive effort in the first half, saying his players did a good job of not allowing Navy’s guards to drive the ball into the lane.
“That was a big concern of ours and a big emphasis going into the game – that we had to keep their guys in front of us and keep them out of the paint,” he said.
Navy came out strong to start the second half, using a quick 6-0 run to cut the deficit to six (35-29) at the 18:45 mark. Lacey had a steal and dunk then scored inside off a nice pick-and-roll with Dulin.
Fox responded with a 3-pointer to spark an 8-0 run that restored the Army lead to 14 points just over two minutes later. Navy answered with a 10-2 run in which all the points came from the foul line. Anderson went 8-for-8 from the charity stripe during the sequence as the Midshipmen got back within six at 50-44 with 6:22 to go.
However, Navy could not put more of a dent in the deficit over the next 5 ½ minutes amid a flurry of missed shots. The Midshipmen did mount a furious rally in the final minute and got within two with two seconds left after freshman Cam Davis drained a 3-pointer.
“I love my team’s grit down the stretch. We keep fighting and keep fighting,” DeChellis said.
Following a timeout, Army inbounded the ball to Fox and he appeared to be fouled with time still remaining on the clock, but the officials declared the game was over. DeChellis was miffed the officials did not look at the replay monitor to determine how much time was on the clock when Navy committed the foul in order to stop the clock.
“I didn’t know what that was at the end of the game. They (referees) just ran off the floor and didn’t say anything to anybody. So I have no idea what happened,” DeChellis said. “I’d like to have an explanation of what it was. There was time left and somebody just blew the whistle and said the game was over.”