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‘They know us:’ Navy men’s basketball facing Loyola Maryland for 4th time in Patriot League Tournament

Navy men’s basketball beat Loyola three times during the regular season.

It would stand to reason the law of averages favor the Greyhounds when they meet the Midshipmen for a fourth time in the quarterfinals of the Patriot League Tournament on Saturday at Alumni Hall.

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Of course, Navy coach Ed DeChellis noted the situation could be viewed another way.

“From the Loyola perspective, there might be the thought that: ‘Hey, we haven’t beaten this team in three times.’ You can play both sides of the coin on that one,” DeChellis said.

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Personally, DeChellis could not care less his troops are playing an opponent for a fourth time in the same season — the first time that’s happened since Navy joined the Patriot League. The 10th-year coach said the focus in practice this week was squarely on the Midshipmen.

“They know us, and we know them, so it’s about fundamentals and execution. It’s about passing and catching with two hands, blocking out on missed shots, making your free throws,” DeChellis said. “No matter who we play, I’m concerned about what we do best as a Navy basketball team. We have to defend, rebound and take care of the basketball better.”

Senior captain Cam Davis scored 20 points, while sophomore forward Jaylen Walker came off the bench to contribute 17 as Navy led from start to finish and steadily pulled away to beat Loyola, 70-52, on Jan. 30 at Alumni Hall.

The Mids and Hounds were supposed to play at Reitz Arena in Baltimore the next day, but the back end of the weekend doubleheader was postponed because of a snowstorm. Rescheduled for Tuesday night in Baltimore, the game was never played because of a Tier 1 positive coronavirus test within the Navy program.

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Davis and starting forward Richard Njoku were unavailable due to contact tracing for this past weekend’s doubleheader between the schools. Junior swingman John Carter Jr. voluntarily gave up his starting spot then played superbly in a reserve role.

Carter scored a season-high 26 points as Navy once again led the whole way in a 73-67 win last Saturday at Reitz Arena. Junior guard Greg Summers totaled 20 points and eight rebounds for the Midshipmen, who led by 18 points midway through the second half then held off a furious rally by the home team.

Carter scored 16 points and backup forward Daniel Deaver added 15 as Navy took the second game of the weekend, 66-58, on Sunday in Annapolis. Loyola jumped out to an early lead and kept the contest close throughout but could not get over the hump.

Loyola coach Tavares Hardy did not hesitate when asked what his club must do to turn things around against Navy. The Greyhounds averaged 20 turnovers in three meetings with the Mids.

“In all three games we turned the ball over at an alarming rate. Credit to their defense, they’ve been able to get into the passing lanes and really extend their pressure defense to bother us,” Hardy said. “They’re getting more possessions and more shots because we’re turning the ball over. We have to be able to take care of the ball on Saturday.”

Loyola was picked to finish third in the preseason Patriot League poll but finished ninth with a 4-10 record. Hardy, in his third season at the helm, did not feel the Greyhounds developed much since the end of last season due to the year-long pandemic.

“In so many ways we’re not that dissimilar from where we finished last season based on COVID,” Hardy said. “We had a plan in place to develop guys in certain areas that we never got a chance to implement. Not making excuses because every program is dealing with the same thing, but in the position we’re in, going into Year 3, it hit us hard.”

Hardy said the preseason expectations were based on the talent level of the roster and not what Loyola had done during the offseason to improve.

“We’re disappointed. We were picked to finish third. I think we earned that based off personnel, but not in terms of the work we put in. We haven’t done that yet. We haven’t been that team in the offseason that earns that type of prediction,” he said.

Loyola would not have been part of the Patriot League Tournament as originally planned as the bottom two teams would have been eliminated. The conference announced Feb. 25 that all 10 schools would be allowed to participate.

“We’ve got a whole new season that starts next week. I’m appreciative of the Patriot League for letting everyone into the tournament,” Hardy said. “It’s a whole new season, a clean slate. We have enough talent to make a run in this tournament if we get our stuff together.”

Loyola has talent starting with sophomore forward Santi Aldama, who was picked first team All-Patriot League this week. The 6-foot-11, 224-pound Spaniard averaged a double-double with 21.4 points and 10.1 rebounds.

Aldama was chosen Patriot League Player of the Week for three straight report periods after scoring 30 points twice and 27 points on two other occasions. He ranked second in the conference with 26 blocked shots.

“If the Patriot League picked a most valuable player, I think it should be Santi based off what he does for this team. There are very few players nationally putting up the numbers across the board that he is,” Hardy said.

Loyola has a strong post presence in Golden Dike, a 6-foot-10, 255-pound sophomore. Dike leads the team with 35 assists but has also committed 33 turnovers. Junior guard Jaylin Andrews (Boys’ Latin) is second on the squad in scoring (11 points per game) and assists (34 total).

“You look at the roster and Loyola has a lot of dynamic players. Aldama is a tremendous talent, Dike is a solid inside threat and they’ve got a good speed guard in Hart,” DeChellis said. “We’ll have to play a lot better than we did in the two games this past weekend to beat them.”

DeChellis acknowledged Aldama is a tough matchup for Navy, which rotates sophomores Tyler Nelson (6-foot-6) and Jaylen Walker (6-5) at the four spot. Aldama has a considerable advantage in terms of height and length over those two defenders.

After sitting out most of the season recovering from a hip injury, sophomore guard Cam Spencer made his debut last weekend. The Davidsonville native and Boys’ Latin graduate had 21 points, eight rebounds, three assists and three steals in two games against Navy.

Ninth-seeded Loyola was supposed to play at No. 8 Holy Cross in a first-round game on Wednesday night, but that contest was called off because of a Tier 1 positive test among the Crusaders.

That was a huge break for the Greyhounds, who would have been forced to travel to and from Worcester, Massachusetts, and had one day to prepare for Navy.

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“They went from being out of the tournament altogether to coming to our place without having to play a game or travel,” DeChellis said. “It’s an even-steven game now.”

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Navy has a first team All-Patriot League performer of its own in Davis, who leads the team in scoring (17.1 points), assists (41 total) and steals (22 total). The 6-foot combination guard is the go-to guy and has shown an ability to take over games down the stretch.

“Cam Davis has grown into a phenomenal player. There was a very strong case for him to be Player of the Year,” Hardy said. “Just a smart, consistent player and outstanding leader. He does everything well — score, pass, defend.”

DeChellis would not reveal whether or not Davis and Njoku had been cleared to play.

Carter is the only other player averaging in double figures for Navy with 11.3 points per game, although Summers is close at 9.6. Summers tops the team in rebounding (6.4 average) and is second in assists (36 total).

LOYOLA@NAVY

Patriot League quarterfinals

Saturday, noon

Stream: ESPN+; Radio: 1430 AM

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