Contrasting styles on display in Army-Navy men's basketball matchup
By BILL WAGNER | The Capital | Published: January 14, 2018
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Tribune News Service) — Sitting in the interview room of Alumni Hall on Thursday night, Ed DeChellis did not look or sound like a coach whose team had just won a hard-fought game.
Navy needed overtime to put away Holy Cross, a struggling team that has lost 12 of its last 14 contests. The Midshipmen had a second-half meltdown on offense, making just 5 of 22 field goals and scoring only 19 points.
It was an uneven performance that left DeChellis with numerous concerns. The seventh-year head coach had two days to get his ballclub ready for one of the biggest games of the season.
“We just have to improve and figure out a way to start playing better,” he said.
Speaking after practice on Friday afternoon, DeChellis still seemed worried in advance of Sunday’s showdown with archrival Army. Senior starters Shawn Anderson and Tom Lacey sat out practice with nagging injuries and DeChellis chose to keep the workout to just over an hour.
“It’s hard to have a productive practice when key guys can’t go,” DeChellis bemoaned. “We’re just not at full strength right now. We’ve got to get some guys healthy.”
Lacey has been hampered by an ankle problem while Anderson has been slowed by a hip issue. DeChellis has carefully managed their minutes of late in hopes of speeding their recovery.
Meanwhile, Army comes to Annapolis with some confidence after posting a phenomenal second half performance during an 81-71 defeat of Lafayette on Thursday night. The Black Knights rallied from a 19-point deficit by outscoring the Leopards 55-28 after intermission.
“We just started executing the gameplan we had from the outset,” Army head coach Jimmy Allen said of the big comeback. “It was great to see the team pull together and find a way to play solid basketball.”
However, Allen claims Army has its own issues caused by a lengthy layoff following the non-conference portion of the schedule. The Black Knights did not play a game for 12 days, taking five days off for exams then four days off for Christmas.
“I don’t know that we’ve played great since we came back from break,” Allen said. “We’ve had to struggle and battle in league games to get where we are now.”
Army (10-6, 3-2) and Navy (12-6, 3-2) are both in the thick of the Patriot League race, currently part of a three-way tie for third place. This marks the first time since 2010 the Black Knights and Midshipmen have entered one of their annual matchups with a winning record in the conference.
“It’s definitely a big game in terms of standings. That being said, I don’t think the records have ever mattered going into this game,” DeChellis said. “There’s a lot of anticipation, a lot of excitement on campus. We’re expecting a tough, competitive game. This will be a slugfest.”
This figures to be a battle of contrasting styles as Army prefers to press and run while Navy wants to turn it into a halfcourt grinder. The Black Knights are averaging almost 80 points per game, 10 more than the Midshipmen.
“Army is very talented offensively and can really score the ball. They want to press you and make you play faster,” DeChellis said. “We have to take care of the ball. We can’t turn the ball over against their pressure. We definitely cannot have turnovers that lead directly to baskets.”
Allen, in his second season as Army head coach after previously serving as an assistant under predecessor Zach Spiker, agreed the pace of play will go a long way toward determining the outcome.
“It’s been the same story since Ed has been there. Navy likes to slow the tempo and has done a good job of making this a low possession game,” said Allen, a former Navy assistant under head coach Don DeVoe. “I do think that’s a big key for us. We want to get the game going at a faster pace. There is no doubt the number of possessions will be important.”
DeChellis owns an 8-6 record against Army since taking over as Navy head coach prior to the 2011-2012 campaign. However, the Midshipmen have lost the last two meetings with the Black Knights at Alumni Hall.
“We need to protect the home court. We haven’t done that the last couple years against Army. For some reason, the visiting team has been able to win in this series,” said DeChellis, who will be seeking his 300th career coaching victory on Sunday.
Army is led offensively by junior guard Jordan Fox, who is scoring 14.9 points per game and shooting 48 percent from 3-point range. Fox teams with sophomore Tommy Funk to form a solid backcourt combination that has distributed a total of 172 assists.
“Jordan Fox is a premier guard in the league. He can really shoot the ball and does a good of creating for others,” DeChellis said. “Together, Fox and Funk have an unbelievable assist-to-turnover ratio.”
The Black Knights boast a solid big man in Matt Wilson, who leads the team in rebounding (6.1) and stands second in scoring (12.5). The 6-foot-9, 235-pound sophomore is shooting a sizzling 59 percent from the floor. Funk (10.1) and freshman forward Alex King (10.4) are also averaging double digits for points.
“Army has a lot of weapons and can score in a variety of ways. They are very balanced,” DeChellis said. “They scored 55 points in the second half against Lafayette. We’re not built that way right now. We don’t want to be in the high 70s. A game in the 60s would be better for us.”
Anderson leads Navy in scoring with 12.6 points per game and his ability to go full speed will be a crucial factor. Senior wing guard Bryce Dulin (11.3) and junior point guard Hasan Abdullah (10.7) are the only other Midshipmen averaging double figures.
“Navy has three very talented guards in Anderson, Dulin and Abdullah. We have seen on tape that they have all taken over games at times this season,” Allen said.
Allen said Army cannot allow Navy to turn this game into a fist fight. He praised the Midshipmen for forcing opponents to earn every basket.
“Navy is just so tough, physical and aggressive on defense,” he said. “We will have to run really good offense in the halfcourt set in order to get open looks.”
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