ANNAPOLIS | With a roster littered with inexperience, the Navy basketball team will have some rough outings this season.
It also has a chance at times to be interesting, such as Tuesday’s 57-55 loss to Tulane at Alumni Hall.
First-year coach Ed DeChellis preaches defense, rebounding and valuing possession. The Mids did the first two against the Green Wave. The latter, though, proved vital in the closing stretch.
“We’re young, we’re learning, we’re trying to figure it out,” DeChellis said.
And that will come with time.
The Mids (2-3) dropped their third straight, committing three turnovers in the final five minutes to limit their opportunities to upend the visitors from Conference USA. Yet they also missed four potential go-ahead shots in the final two minutes, a strong turnaround from Saturday’s 78-54 drubbing at Quinnipiac.
“I’d be very disappointed if we didn’t continue to fight and play,” said DeChellis, whose team surrendered the first 10 points before rallying for a 29-28 halftime lead. “We didn’t do that Saturday. We learned a valuable lesson up there. We didn’t do the things we asked our guys to do, and it wasn’t a very good outcome.”
This one almost was, and it was undoubtedly substantial progress for a Navy outfit in the midst of a crammed opening stretch.
Veterans Jordan Sugars and J.J. Avila both scored 13 points. They also both left briefly in the second half with injuries before returning.
That placed the Mids’ cast of untested players in an important spot. Point guard Jordan Brickman, who was recruited to Navy but did not play the last two years, scored a team-high 14 points while committing only two turnovers. Freshman Worth Smith scored back-to-back baskets to spur the Mids after Tulane (4-0) built an eight-point edge in the second half.
Freshman Donya Jackson made a 3-pointer, his only shot of the night, with 10:07 left to complete the comeback and give Navy a 50-49 lead. The Mids wouldn’t trail again until Josh Davis was credited with a basket on a goaltending call to put the Green Wave up 56-55.
Perhaps the best chance to slip back ahead was Smith’s jumper with 32 seconds remaining as the shot clock wound down. However, officials ruled the attempt didn’t hit the basket and gave possession to Tulane, much to DeChellis’ dismay.
“I’ll go watch it, but I think it hit the rim,” DeChellis said. “If I didn’t, I’ll apologize to those guys. If it did, they’ll get a copy.”
While the Green Wave struggled with free throws —- missing three of four in the final minute —- Navy couldn’t muster much on offense. Avila’s open 3-pointer clanked off the rim, and Brickman initially fumbled the ball before launching a desperation heave just inside halfcourt.
“I saw there was less than a second when I put it up,” Brickman said. “I don’t know if I got it off, but I’m going to say ‘Yeah, I did.’”
It didn’t go, but the Mids did show progress. It makes sense such a raw bunch —- five newcomers were in Navy’s 10-man rotation Tuesday —- would make strides with each game.
Navy dipped under .500 for the first time this year, but demonstrated considerable advancement from less than two weeks earlier in the process.
“We better improve,” DeChellis said. “That’s the purpose of this thing. We need to improve daily. I’m trying to get them to understand that. you either get better or you get worse. It’s really hard to stay the same.”
—- Patrick Stevens