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Navy men’s basketball found itself short-handed at the wrong time of the season, hopes for NIT bid

Navy men’s basketball earned the outright No. 1 seed for the Patriot League Tournament for the first time since 1997. Sadly for the Midshipmen, the result was much the same as it has been for most of the past two decades: one and done.

Playing without starters Cam Davis and Richard Njoku, Navy put forth arguably its worst performance of the 2020-21 season and got upset by ninth-seeded Loyola Maryland, 76-68, in the Patriot League Tournament quarterfinals on Saturday.

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Junior guard Jaylin Andrews scored 17 points, while sophomore forward Santi Aldama posted a double-double with 15 points and 12 rebounds for Loyola (5-10), which struggled throughout the regular season but put it all together when it mattered most and advanced to face No. 4 Army at West Point in Wednesday night’s semifinals.

“I didn’t think we played our best game, and that’s unfortunate,” Navy coach Ed DeChellis said. “At this time of the year you have to play your best game because it’s one and done.”

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Junior guard Greg Summers scored 21 points to lead Navy, which finished 15-3 overall. After going 12-1 in regular season conference play, the Midshipmen dropped their Patriot League Tournament opener for the 15th time since 2002.

“It was rough finishing out this season this way. It definitely hurts, definitely stings,” Summers said. “We didn’t play the way we needed, especially on the defensive end. We didn’t play as cohesively as we wanted.”

Navy was put behind the eight ball before even taking the home court at Alumni Hall. Davis and Njoku were ruled out due to coronavirus protocols at some point late in the week, leaving a major void in the lineup.

Davis, the team captain and starting point guard, led the Mids in scoring, assists and steals throughout this season. The 6-foot senior scored in double digits in 14 of the 15 games he played and has 1,215 career points.

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“Cam is a senior who has been around a long time and made a lot of big plays. He kind of takes over games at times and makes big shots,” DeChellis said.

Not having Njoku, a member of the Patriot League All-Defensive team, also hurt. The rugged 6-foot-7, 230-pound junior is a tough, physical interior defender and his absence was noticeable during Saturday’s contest.

The Greyhounds have three players that stand 6-foot-10 or taller and they had their way down low against the undersized Mids. Sophomore Daniel Deaver (6-8, 225) started in place of Njoku but got into foul trouble.

The 6-foot-11 Aldama, a first-team All-Patriot League performer, set the tone early by taking the ball strong to the basket for a layup and scoring off a put-back.

Loyola's Santi Aldama scores as he goes past Navy's Patrick Dorsey during the second half of Saturday's Patriot League Tournament quarterfinal game.
Loyola's Santi Aldama scores as he goes past Navy's Patrick Dorsey during the second half of Saturday's Patriot League Tournament quarterfinal game. (Paul W. Gillespie/Capital Gazette)

Loyola repeatedly pushed the ball inside to 6-foot-10, 257-pound Golden Dike on the low block and he was productive, scoring eight points on 4 of 5 field goal shooting.

Most distressing was the offensive contribution of 6-foot-10 freshman Alonso Faure, who entered averaging just 4.4 points. Faure made a wide-open 3-pointer and converted a three-point play down the stretch in scoring 11 of his 13 points in the second half.

That inside scoring, coupled with 19 points off 12 offensive rebounds, helped Loyola shoot a sizzling 58% (32-55) from the field for the game. The Greyhounds scored 40 points in the first half alone and became just the third Patriot League opponent this season to reach 70 against the Midshipmen.

“I thought our defense was the biggest problem. I didn’t think we were very good defensively at all,” DeChellis said. “We couldn’t stay in front of the ball and for some reason our second rotations weren’t very good.”

Making matters worse was the fact John Carter Jr. was not 100%. The junior swingman, the team’s second-leading scorer, did not practice during the week because he was not feeling well and was a game-time decision.

Carter was pretty much a non-factor on Saturday, scoring six points and playing just 17 minutes. “You take three starters out of the lineup and now we’re going home,” DeChellis said afterward.

“I’m frustrated and our team is frustrated. You’d like to give it your best shot because I think we had a chance to really do something,” DeChellis added.

In the final analysis, Navy did not play the type of basketball that had produced such a successful season. The Midshipmen out-rebounded Patriot League opponents by a considerable margin and were allowing an average of only 66.5 points per game.

“I didn’t think we defended or rebounded, and those have been the trademarks of this team,” DeChellis bemoaned. “It wasn’t a good defensive effort at all. We gave up 40 points in the first half, which was disappointing.”

Depth and bench production have also defined this Navy club. The Midshipmen got 38 bench points in beating the Greyhounds on Feb. 28, but only got 18 in Saturday’s loss. Navy’s normal rotation was disrupted by the absence of two starters and Carter being limited.

“I didn’t think we had the flow off the bench that we normally have either,” DeChellis said. “All the things we’ve done leading up to this point, we didn’t do today.”

Trailing by 15 points early in the second half, Summers scored nine points to spark a 20-6 run that got Navy within one at 49-48 with 13:32 remaining in the game. The Midshipmen just could not get over the hump, missing shots or committing turnovers on one end and failing to get defensive stops on the other.

“That was a big sequence when we had three chances to take the lead. If we take the lead, that changes a lot of things,” DeChellis said. “We all took our turns making mistakes. We were making elementary mistakes, which was just unfortunate.”

Davis enjoyed an outstanding career in a Navy uniform, playing in 107 games with 73 starts during his career. He was a two-time All-Patriot League pick and also amassed 226 rebounds, 192 assists and 70 steals.

“I just feel badly for Cam sitting in his room right now feeling miserable. I don’t know if he’s going to get to play again or not,” DeChellis said. “There’s a kid who has given so much to the program over the last four years and didn’t play in the last three games.”

Navy will lose three members of the rotation with the Loehr twins — Alec and Luke — also set to graduate. Luke Loehr suffered a season-ending knee injury six games into the season. Alec Loehr was the only senior to play in the season finale.

“Cam, Al and Luke are incredible leaders. They’ve helped us along the way on and off the court. They’ve instilled multiple characteristics and attributes we’ll carry on,” Summers said.

Navy can only now hope to receive a berth in the National Invitation Tournament, which gets underway on March 16 with all games being played in the Dallas-Forth Worth metroplex in Texas. Organizers recently announced this year’s NIT will feature just 16 teams as opposed to the usual 32.

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In seasons past, Navy would have received an automatic berth into the NIT as the Patriot League regular season champion. There will be no automatic qualifiers for this year’s tournament with the field featuring 16 at-large berths.

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“We’re 15-3 and we’ve got good wins over Georgetown and George Washington,” DeChellis said. “I think we’re a pretty good team and I think it’s a good story. I hope they give us a look, give us a chance. We’d be honored to be in the NIT and continue to play.”

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