ANNAPOLIS — Navy forward Worth Smith barely practiced entering Saturday's game against Bucknell, consigned to the sideline while wearing a walking boot to deal with a stress reaction in his right foot.
Then the freshman scored a career-high 16 points in the Midshipmen's latest loss.
"I thought he had a little bounce, a little energy," Navy coach Ed DeChellis said. "Maybe I ought to put them all in boots."
At this point, he'll probably entertain any idea if it helps snapping the Mids out of their multi-month funk.
Navy has dropped 14 straight, one shy of a school record. Its skid is tied for third-longest in Division I among active losing streaks. And the Mids are halfway to becoming the first Patriot League school to go winless in conference play since Army in 2003.
A visit from former Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs recently didn't change the Mids' fortunes. At the least, it probably boosted their morale.
"He said 'The season's never really over,' and it never really is over," Smith said. "I don't want to lose every game, but we can lose every game and get to the Patriot tournament and then win three games and the worst season could turn into the best season."
Still, winning one game — let alone three in a row — could be a daunting task for the Mids (3-18, 0-7 Patriot) over the next month. It wasn't supposed to happen against league leader Bucknell, even at Alumni Hall; sure enough, the Bison built a 15-point lead at the half en route to a comfortable 66-51 victory.
There are greater concerns for Navy than just handling a star player like Bucknell's Mike Muscala. DeChellis is almost firing darts each game in an attempt to see what might stick on a given night. Navy has used eight starting lineups in its last 11 games and 11 starting combinations on the season.
The last time he went with the same five for consecutive games? Early December, when the Mids lost to Monmouth and Missouri in the early stages of the current skid.
"It's daily, because we have no consistency in practice," DeChellis said. "That's when you know you're a struggling team when you don't have a guy who comes for two or three days in a row and plays well. You try to play the hot guys who practiced well yesterday and then it doesn't really carry over sometimes to [games]."
Ominous milestones loom if Navy can't shake its struggles. It could set a school record for consecutive losses in its next home game, Feb. 8 against Holy Cross. The program-worst mark of 23 losses could be surpassed next month.
Perhaps the slight encouragement the Mids can take from their first pass through the conference — aside from Smith's development — is that no loss was more lopsided than Saturday's 15-point margin.
"They really play hard," Bucknell coach Dave Paulsen said. "They're a really physical team defensively. They make you work for everything you get. Offensively, they screen and cut and move. This was a hard-fought win against a team that I think is going to put some wins on the board pretty soon."
Or so DeChellis hopes, lest his joking about a big order of walking boots begins to sound more appealing.
"We need to get some guys playing on the same night, and I think we will win some games," DeChellis said. "But it's hard. When you've lost this many with kids' confidence, it's hard."
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.