EMMITSBURG — In an era when college basketball seems entirely preoccupied with launching 3-pointers as soon as the ball is past the halfcourt line, Navy is more than comfortable with relying on the traditional philosophy of using defense to generate offense.
“It all starts with the old man over there,” senior guard John Carter Jr. quipped affectionately while pointing to coach Ed DeChellis. “He’s definitely [emphasized] an old-school system, and it’s working, especially with the talent that we have and the athleticism that we have. Everyone has bought in, and playing really good defense really helps the offensive side. It just takes the pressure off of that, and when we do score, it makes us look even that much better.”
That strategy was more than evident in the Midshipmen’s 67-40 thumping of host Mount St. Mary’s before an announced 1,362 at Knott Arena on Saturday afternoon. Navy (5-2) held the Mountaineers to a season-worst 23.4% shooting rate (11-for-47) and frequently turned those miscues into offensive opportunities to extend its winning streak to five games.
The Midshipmen converted 45.5% (25-of-55) of their attempts from the field, outrebounded the taller Mount St. Mary’s squad 39-32 and turned the ball over 13 times compared with the Mountaineers’ 16 giveaways.
“For us, that’s a recipe for success,” DeChellis said. “When we have a positive field-goal percentage compared to our opponents and we outrebound our opponents and we take care of the ball, it usually means a pretty good afternoon for us.”
Saturday afternoon was a textbook outing for Navy. After sophomore shooting guard Josh Reaves sank two free throws to give Mount St. Mary’s a 2-0 lead just 32 seconds into the first half, the Midshipmen scored 14 unanswered points.
When Reaves drained a 3-pointer from the left corner with 12:41 remaining, that ended a drought of 6:43 for the Mountaineers. Extended bouts of futility became a theme for Mount St. Mary’s, which went scoreless for periods of 3:45, 4:09, 3:00, 5:39 and 3:34.
Senior guard Greg Summers said turning those droughts into offense is a priority for Navy, which has shut out opponents for at least four minutes 10 times this season.
“We have to take advantage of that and especially offensively,” he said. “One thing we really focus on is executing offensively, and that’s really going to put a team back on their heels. On the defensive end, especially after the South Carolina tournament [last weekend], the team has definitely bought in and understood their assignments on defense, and it’s really fun to play that way because everybody is playing hard and we can help each other when someone’s in a tough position.”
Summers, who accumulated 11 points, eight rebounds and five assists, also played stellar defense against Mountaineers junior point guard Jalen Benjamin. The UAB transfer had averaged 21.0 points in his last two starts, but could manage only six points on 1-for-10 shooting, including 0-for-4 from 3-point range.
Six-foot-9, 230-pound power forward Malik Jefferson led Mount St. Mary’s with nine points and nine rebounds, but frontcourt mates Nana Opoku (6-9, 210) had just five points, six rebounds and three blocks and Mezie Offurum (6-8, 230) finished with eight points.
Carter, who scored a game-high 18 points to go along with four rebounds, said the Midshipmen’s perimeter defenders have embraced DeChellis’ emphasis on harassing entry passes to the post.
“We really focus on denying all passes, and if we can really do that and disrupt their offense, we just believe there’s no way they can get inside,” he said. “We just knew they would get back to ball screens, and we know how to guard those pretty well. So we just tried to keep it as simple as that.”
DeChellis, who revealed that the team spent Thanksgiving morning walking through its defensive game plan, said the players are aware that if they don’t play defense, they won’t get the opportunity to play much offense either.
“We work on our offense, don’t get me wrong,” he said. “But I always say to these guys, ‘You’ve got to hang your hat on something. You’ve got to put your lunch pail on something. What do you want to be good at?’ It’s impossible to be good at every single thing. So I’m trying to convince them – and I think they’ve figured it out – that we want to be good defensively.”
The Mountaineers’ fourth loss in five games was exacerbated by 18 misses in 20 3-point attempts and nine missed free throws in 25 tries. Coach Dan Engelstad noted that Navy bodied his players early and often.
“It really got us off of our spots early,” he said of the Midshipmen’s physicality. “I thought we had a couple of good looks early that didn’t drop. I think that really hurt because it closed down the floor even more. It’s just really hard when you can’t get any rhythm from an offensive standpoint and credit to them for doing a good job of keying on guys they wanted to play off the three line. We had a couple open looks from those guys as well as guys that don’t shoot it particularly great, and we couldn’t make any of them.”
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