Navy men's basketball falls apart down the stretch in 78-73 loss to Lehigh
The Capital January 9, 2023
(Tribune News Service) — Navy men's basketball has not started Patriot League action with anywhere near the caliber of play coach Ed DeChellis expected.
Senior guard Evan Taylor scored 26 points and visiting Lehigh took over down the stretch, beating Navy, 78-73, Sunday afternoon at Alumni Hall. Sophomore guard Keith Higgins Jr. added 16 points for the Mountain Hawks, who erased a seven-point deficit over the final 6 1/2 minutes of the game.
After going on the road and beating Boston University in the conference opener, Navy has now dropped three straight and finds itself in the lower half of the standings. Most concerning for the Midshipmen is that two of those defeats came at home.
Senior forward Daniel Deaver scored 23 points — two shy of equaling a career-high — to lead Navy (8-8, 1-3), which is off to its worst Patriot League start since 2012. Senior guard Sean Yoder scored a career-high 22 points for the Midshipmen, who have given up 74 points or more in all three conference defeats.
"We haven't been able to guard the ball. Historically, we've been pretty good defensively, but right now with this group we just can't guard the ball," DeChellis said.
Senior wing Patrick Dorsey had a steal and layup and Deaver followed with a strong post move to cap an 8-0 run that gave Navy a 68-61 lead with 7:40 remaining in the game. Then it all fell apart.
Taylor and Higgins combined to do most of the damage as Lehigh outscored the Mids 15-3 the rest of the way. Navy made just 1 of 11 field goal attempts and committed four turnovers over the last six minutes.
"We didn't make the right decisions, we didn't execute and we didn't take care of the ball down the stretch," DeChellis said.
"It's very frustrating. We need to play a full 40 minutes. I thought we played a pretty good game up until the final five minutes or so," Yoder said.
Taylor turned a steal into a thunderous dunk and that seemed to energize the Mountain Hawks, who have now won three straight meetings with the Midshipmen. Deaver drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key to give Navy a 73-69 lead with 4:08 to go, but Lehigh scored the game's final nine points.
Taylor took an inbound pass and immediately drove into the lane for a pull-up jumper that rattled around to give the Mountain Hawks a 75-73 lead with 54 seconds left.
"I think it comes down to defense. We didn't defend down the stretch and that's really the difference," Yoder said. "Shot selection goes into it and I'll take the blame. I took a three from the top of the key, which just was not a good shot."
Navy's final six offensive possessions were disastrous, producing seven missed shots with point guard Austin Inge getting blocked at the rim on a driving attempt and wing guard Christian Jones missing badly on a desperation three with one second left on the shot clock.
Taylor was on fire in making 11 of 16 field goals, including four 3-pointers. The rangy 6-foot-6 swingman was hot from long range and also did a good job of attacking the basket.
"Evan was very strong offensively. He had to create for himself a bit and made some great plays to get himself into mid-range," Lehigh coach Brett Reed said. "His size and elevation came through and he converted in some critical moments."
Navy's basketball players have been staying at the homes of their sponsors and the program as a whole has been out of its normal routine with the Naval Academy shut down for the holidays. The Brigade of Midshipmen reformed over the weekend and spring semester classes begin Tuesday.
DeChellis hopes being back in their dormitory rooms in Bancroft Hall and returning to a normal schedule will focus the Midshipmen, who host Lafayette on Wednesday. Between now and then, the coaching staff has to figure out how to fix the defense.
"We were seventh in the country in defense last season and we're about 700th right now," DeChellis said. "We haven't done anything different. It's the pieces to the puzzle. We've got to try to have these pieces fit a little better or change the pieces."
"We've been letting up way too many points and teams have been shooting too high of a percentage against us," Yoder said. "We've been known for defense in years past and we need to get back to that. We need to buckle it up."
Yoder had 15 points on the strength of four 3-pointers as Navy took a 39-38 lead into intermission. Deaver made 5 of 8 field goals in scoring 12 points for the Midshipmen, who rallied from a 10-point deficit.
"We'll continue to work at it. It's a long race and we've got to get better. That's on me," DeChellis said.
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