ANNAPOLIS | Navy coach Billy Lange looked at his roster a week before Patriot League play commenced and knew the Midshipmen would need more from center Mark Veazey and point guard O.J. Avworo in the coming months.
He received plenty from both sophomores Wednesday at Alumni Hall.
Veazey scored a career-high 20 points, and Avworo had seven assists against one turnover as Navy turned back Holy Cross 74-68.
Veazey, who at 6-foot-11 towers over most of his conference competition, provided a crucial element for the Mids (14-5, 3-1 Patriot) against the rugged Crusaders (8-11, 3-1).
“You can sense it during the game that he’s the difference in the game,” Navy coach Billy Lange said. “The whole team was, but his role tonight was the difference in the game. If we don’t have Mark Veazey tonight, we don’t win the game. When I say that, I don’t mean physically. I mean him being mentally engaged.”
Chris Harris added 20 points for Navy.
The victory was Navy’s third straight against Holy Cross, a notable accomplishment since the Crusaders won the previous 17 meetings and controlled the Patriot League for much of this decade.
Stylistically, this year’s version of Holy Cross is quite similar. Forward Andrew Keister had 27 points and 14 rebounds for the Crusaders, who didn’t make a basket outside the paint until the final minute and failed to make a 3-pointer for the first time since 1996.
Avworo warrants some of the credit for the tepid play of the Crusaders’ guards. Yet Veazey enjoyed a breakout conference game against the most imposing front line Navy will face the rest of the way.
He did so with efficiency, not just deftly working around the basket but also hitting midrange jumpers with a soft touch. His 10-footer along the baseline with 5:21 left provided Navy with an 11-point edge.
“His face-up stuff has really gotten him a lot better,” Holy Cross coach Ralph Willard said. “He’s a totally different player than he was last year.”
In the end, the Mids needed to win without Veazey. He fouled out with 2:18 left while going for an offensive rebound far from the basket, and a little more than a minute later Holy Cross was within a possession.
The Crusaders closed within 70-68 on Adam May’s leaner with 23.3 seconds left, pulling things closer than at any other point in the final 15 minutes. But Harris doubled the lead with a pair of free throws, and Holy Cross’ Pat Doherty missed a driving layup with 10 seconds remaining. Kaleo Kina followed with a pair of free throws to clinch the victory.
It was a nervous stretch for Veazey as Navy was forced to go with a far smaller lineup the rest of the way. After the Mids secured the win, though, it was clear Veazey’s play was an even more impressive development than pulling within a half-game of league-leading American.
“It’s attacking the rim and knowing I can score 20 points in the game,” said Veazey, who also had a career-high four blocks. “That’s what I’ve been needing and really working on.”