- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 1, 2012

ANNAPOLIS — Jordan Sugars had a December he’d much rather not remember.

The same goes for the rest of his Navy basketball teammates.

The Midshipmen dropped their last six games of 2011, including five games in December. And Sugars, one of Navy’s few veteran options, struggled through a miserable slump in the process.

The senior equaled his season-high with 21 points in Friday’s 65-56 loss to Mercer, in the process matching his combined scoring total for his four previous games.

“I hope he can springboard it and I hope he can build off of it,” Navy coach Ed DeChellis said. “I told him the other day, and we had talks all week, ‘You’re a good player, play like a good player. Just act like you’re playing in your backyard. … He said ‘I’m lost offensively’ and I said ‘Why are you lost? Just go play.’ “

Maybe the advice will pay off. Sugars had 11 points Sunday as the Mids fell to Norfolk State 71-65 at Alumni Hall.

One or two games carries only so much meaning for Navy (3-11), which completed nonconference play Sunday. To create headaches in Patriot League action, the Mids need a vastly more consistent Sugars.

After averaging 16 points as a junior, Sugars finally hauled his season average back into double figures Friday. That came only after incorporating a back-to-basics approach to his offensive game in practice.

Forget a ton of shooting. Sugars spent a chunk of his time last week working on his form.

“I think it’s more just thinking too much and not playing naturally on the court,” Sugars said. “I went back down to the basics with coach as far as shooting and all that stuff. It’s just making the game more fun and enjoyable, because I was getting frustrated out there.”

In turn, Navy found itself especially flustered as Sugars shot 9-for-45 (20 percent) over the first five games of Navy’s year-ending skid. The reason isn’t complicated: The Mids only have two reliable scorers.

Sophomore J.J. Avila has reached double figures in all but one game and leads Navy in scoring. After Avila and Sugars, nine Mids have at least one double-digit scoring night — but none have more than four.

Some of that was to be expected on a 20-man roster with only three seniors and a junior. It doesn’t make it any easier to DeChellis, who is in his first season at Navy.

“I’ve done this twice - at Penn State and East Tennessee State,” DeChellis said. “The growing pains are really, really hard, though. We’re that far away and we’re that close. If we can just get one more guy going, we’ll give ourselves a chance.”

Of course, Sugars leaving his funk in the old year certainly won’t hurt, either. The Mids have played some tight games (Friday’s loss was their sixth by single digits) in advance of league play, which begins Saturday against Lafayette.

Despite the struggles — his own and the program’s — Sugars believes the Mids will eventually benefit from the experience in the long run.

“Nobody’s satisfied with losing, but it’s a good thing we’re getting in these tough games early in the season,” Sugars said. “These games are right there for us to win. You can count them. There’s just too many games we’re losing down the stretch.”

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