The low point in the Holy Cross men’s basketball season occurred on Feb. 7. That was the day the school announced that three players had been suspended due to possible violations of NCAA rules and the Crusaders endured their worst loss in Hart Center history.
Freshman Cam Davis scored a career-high 18 points to lead a superb shooting effort and Navy put forth a dominant defensive performance in routing Holy Cross, 69-34, in Worcester. The 34 points were the fewest scored by the Crusaders in program history.
“Navy came up here earlier this month and just destroyed us,” Holy Cross head coach Bill Carmody said earlier this week. “We were never in the game. It was a great showing on Navy’s part.”
That lopsided result was no doubt brought up by both head coaches this week as No. 6 Holy Cross travels to Annapolis to take on third-seeded Navy in the Patriot League Tournament quarterfinals on Thursday night.
Senior swingman and team captain Shawn Anderson has warned his teammates to not put much stock in the previous meeting. If anything, the Crusaders are going to use that embarrassing 35-point defeat as motivation.
“Holy Cross is a very good team with a lot of pride. They’re probably up there right now watching film of that last game and their head coach is challenging them to come out and play even harder because of what happened,” Anderson said. “We have to respect Holy Cross like we do every opponent.”
Navy head coach Ed DeChellis only needs to show film of the first game with Holy Cross in order to get his players’ attention. The Midshipmen shot a dismal 22.7 percent (5-for-22) from the field in the second half and needed overtime to subdue the Crusaders, 61-56.
“We shot the ball horribly in the second half against Holy Cross here in Annapolis,” DeChellis recalled. “I watched that tape today and with 12 minutes to go in the second half we didn’t have a field goal. We had open shots and just missed them.”
Holy Cross hangs its hat on a 2-3 matchup zone that has given opponents fits over the years. Navy was reminded on Jan. 11 what happens when you cannot make perimeter jumpers or find a way to get to the basket versus that compacted zone.
“Shooting has always been the key against Holy Cross. If you make shots, you’re in good shape. If you don’t, you’re going to go down the other end and defend for 25 to 30 seconds because they try to shorten the game,” DeChellis said. “We have to come out on Thursday night and catch, pass and shoot the basketball well. We can’t turn the ball over foolishly or miss a bunch of shots. This is a game in which we need to execute offense and make baskets. You can’t play from behind against this team because they are going to milk the clock.”
Anderson said crisp ball movement is crucial to breaking down the Holy Cross zone and generating good looks. The 6-foot-4 swingman said the Midshipmen must attempt to penetrate the zone to get the Crusaders to collapse and also need to create second-chance points.
“Yes, we know all about that zone and Holy Cross is long and can be aggressive. We just have to swing the ball around quickly and make sure we get open shots,” Anderson said. “We have to shoot the ball with confidence and we also have to crash the glass and make sure we get some offensive rebounds.”
Actually, Holy Cross has rebounded quite well from the devastating loss to Navy and the suspensions, which included standout forward and second-leading scorer Karl Charles. The Crusaders won three of five to close out the regular season, falling 68-67 in overtime to top-seeded Bucknell and by just six points to second-seeded Colgate.
“I’m proud of how the players have responded to some adversity. I think this team has hardened itself to some extent,” said Carmody, noting that Holy Cross has won four straight contests on the road. “I would say we have played better overall since we got beat up by Navy.
We’re playing some young guys and I think they’re sort of getting it.”
DeChellis credits Carmody, who previously coached at Princeton and Northwestern and has amassed more than 300 career victories, for holding Holy Cross together.
“I think Coach Carmody has done a really good job with this team as far as getting his kids to believe and putting them in position to be successful,” DeChellis said. “I think all the Holy Cross players all play to their strengths.”
Holy Cross, which finished 11-18 overall and 8-10 in the Patriot League, is led on both ends of the court by forward Jehyve Floyd. The 6-foot-8, 226-pound junior was named Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year this week and also leads the Crusaders in both scoring (11.8 points) and rebounding (5.7).
Freshman guard Austin Butler is scoring just shy of 10 points per game for Holy Cross, which moved junior Patrick Benzan back into the starting lineup to replace Charles.
“In order to win this game we will need to put the ball into the basket. We’ve really struggled shooting the ball this season, especially from 3-point range,” Carmody said.
Navy is led by Anderson, who was named first team All-Patriot League and is averaging 13.5 points, 5.2 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.0 steals. The Pennsylvania native leads the Mids in scoring and minutes played while ranking second in rebounding, assists and steals.
Senior guard Bryce Dulin was an All-Patriot League Defensive team selection for the second straight season and is averaging 10.2 points per game. Tom Lacey, Navy’s third senior starter, leads the team in rebounding with an average of 6.6.
“I was just telling the guys when we brought it in for the huddle: What a great time to be playing basketball. There is no better time,” Anderson said after practice on Tuesday. “As we all know, March Madness can be crazy. So I can’t wait to see what we bring against Holy Cross on Thursday. This is the last go-round for the four seniors so we have to make sure we go out and lead and are hungry because the championship is next week.”
DeChellis believes the presence of four seniors, including backup point guard Nourse Fox, should benefit Navy going into the tournament. If Navy beats Holy Cross, it will advance to Sunday’s semifinals against the winner of the Lafayette-Colgate quarterfinal.
“We have some older players, some seniors that have been through the grind and understand what postseason basketball is all about,” DeChellis said. “They’ve won on the road, which is something you need to be able to do at this time of the year.”
Navy basketball during the seven-year tenure of DeChellis has been based on defending, rebounding and taking care of the ball.
“When we stick to the basics and do what we’re good at doing, I think we are a very dangerous team that people need to look out for,” Anderson said. “We have to stick to our identity. If we play hard, have fun and focus on playing Navy basketball, we can beat anyone.”
Navy (20-11, 11-7) has increased its conference victory total for six straight seasons, longest active streak at the Division I level. The Midshipmen have reached 20 total wins for just the ninth time in program history and first since 2000.
Navy closed the regular season strong, going 5-1 to earn the third seed and a home game in the quarterfinals.
“It definitely helps not having to travel for the first game. It’s our gym and we’ve played and practiced there an awful lot over the years so we should be comfortable,” Anderson said. “We’re excited to be playing a tournament game in Annapolis. Hopefully, all the fans and a bunch of midshipmen will come out and support us so there is a great atmosphere that puts pressure on the opposing team.”