ANNAPOLIS — The search was a familiar and agonizing one Saturday for Navy coach Ed DeChellis. J.J. Avila and Jordan Sugars provided an offensive lift. Could someone else?
It didn't come until far too late in a 75-62 loss to Army at Alumni Hall, well past the point the Midshipmen were assured their 10th straight setback in a season of growing frustration. And with Navy inching closer to the school record for consecutive losses, the question arises on an all-too-regular basis.
A variety of issues frazzle the Mids (3-14, 0-3 Patriot). Their youth is well-documented. Their point guard play, a question from the moment practice started in October, is erratic. Their outside shooting is usually poor, though it hasn't stopped the Mids from hoisting at least 20 3-pointers in six of their past eight games.
But few things stand out like the absence of options capable of permitting Navy from keeping pace when opponents surpass 70 points, a plateau the Mids have not reached since Nov. 13.
"Everybody wants to play, and when they get in and have a chance to play, they don't get anything done," DeChellis said. "That's just young people. It's like I tell them 'It's not intramurals. It's not participation, it's production.' That's a huge difference. We can't have guys that just want to participate. You can go participate somewhere else. You can go play intramurals. You have to get production."
The first half Saturday offered an extreme example. Avila and Sugars, who account for 46.1 percent of the Mids' scoring on the season, combined for 19 points as Navy trailed 35-24 at the break. The pair totaled 38 points for the game.
Beyond them? Sophomore guard Isaiah Roberts scored 11 points in the second half — all while Navy trailed by double digits. Freshman forward Worth Smith, one of just three Mids who entered the weekend averaging at least five points, was scoreless in 18 minutes. Only six players provided any points, and two starters were held without a shot.
"We just have a hard time scoring," DeChellis said. "We're not a team that can shoot the ball well. If we don't make some open shots, we let it affect us at the other end. You have two guys — J.J. had a good line tonight and Sugars was OK — and you get nothing else."
The Mids also got regression. After four straight single-digit losses, including Patriot League meetings with Lafayette and Holy Cross during which Navy led in the final 10 minutes, the Mids suffered their most lopsided home loss to Army since 1971.
The effect was obvious. The Mids, five losses shy of matching the program's record skid (set during the 1988-89 season), were left even more dumbfounded by the direction of the season after losing at home to the only team picked to finish lower in the Patriot League than them.
"The past few games, I thought we'd been getting better, but I think we just took 10 steps back this game," Avila said. "I don't know why. I can't tell you why."
What can be told is that things won't get much easier anytime soon. American (11-7, 2-1) visits Annapolis on Wednesday, and meetings with Bucknell and Lehigh — the projected top two teams in the Patriot — loom the following week. A team searching for both a victory and additional offensive help will be severely tested in both areas.
"The way out is to play better," DeChellis said.
With few sure things dotting their roster, the Mids can only wish effectively implementing that solution could be as easy as coming up with it.
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