Navy’s style doesn’t belong in the Patriot League. In a sea of teams that score lots of points and often give up just as many, the Midshipmen prefer wars of attrition. They entered Wednesday with the nation’s #77 defense per KenPom — 150 spots ahead of their next-best foe — and the second least-efficient offense. But they exploded for an 83-67 win at Boston University.
We all loved last year’s wacky Patriot League, so how about an encore? After losing their top two scorers, the Midshipmen were ranked last in the preseason poll. But here they are at 2-1 in league play, tied for third place. They’re joined by Holy Cross and Colgate, ranked eighth and ninth in the preseason. #7 was Loyola (MD), now 3-0.
But from that group of surprises, Navy might be the best bet to stick around. Pomeroy’s ratings project it to finish with the league’s second-best record, behind only Bucknell, which is off to a 3-0 start (including an 88-58 home rout of the Midshipmen). Navy is 11-5 overall, needing only a few more wins to clinch its first .500 record in seven seasons, and perhaps a few more to reach a postseason tournament for the first time since 1998.
“You’ve got to try to steal some games on the road,” Navy coach Ed DeChellis said. “Anytime you can go on the road and win, that’s important. We’ve got to try to build some confidence. The team had a lot of confidence coming in, then we got whacked pretty good at Bucknell, we come back and win at Holy Cross, and we win here. So it just gives us more juice as we head into Saturday with Colgate.”
Center Will Kelly, like his team, is known better for defense than offense. But the Midshipmen played through the senior to start the game, yielding six early points from rim runs and post-ups. Those snowballed into a 17-0 run — including three treys in a 45-second span — giving the visitors a commanding early lead.
That advantage disappeared as quickly as it was built. BU scored 14 points in five possessions to close most of the gap, and the Terriers got stops in a zone. They claimed the lead at the first-half buzzer on a heady put-back from forward Nick Havener, who finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds.
The lead was traded back and forth well into the second half, and BU was up three with 10 minutes remaining until perhaps the most explosive run of Navy’s season: 31 points on 17 possessions before the intentional fouls began.
Kelly finished that spurt with a layup and one, sealing the game in the final minutes. He finished with 16 points, tying Tilman Dunbar and Shawn Anderson for the game high.
“Will can be a really good player. He misses some easy shots, but he makes some tough shots, and he affects the game. I just like to keep him on the floor — he seems to be in foul trouble a lot, and that drives me nuts,” DeChellis said. “We’re pretty good when he’s on the floor, because he can affect the game.”
The Terriers are the flip side of the surprising Patriot League: After being picked third in the preseason, they now sit in the cellar at 0-3. BU’s bench might as well have been headed to a wedding Wednesday, with so many players dressed in suit and tie — after losing preseason all-league wing Cedric Hankerson and starting center Justin Alston for the season, the Terriers played without another starter, Cheddi Mosely, against Navy.
BU coach Joe Jones said Mosely had been playing through a stress fracture in his foot, adding that Mosely and point guard Kyle Foreman have had practice time limited by injuries.
The Terriers were built to outscore opponents, but they’re no longer a standout offensive team; they’re averaging less than a point per possession so far in Patriot League play. And the defense, suspect even at full strength, was bad on Wednesday. BU missed rotations and assignments, possibly reflecting its eighth different lineup of the last 11 games. But even in one-on-one situations, Midshipmen regularly blew by their defenders.
“I don’t think what we’re going through now has anything to do with our injuries. We’re not fighting. That’s what I’m angry about. We’re not competing, we’re giving in because things have gotten hard for us,” Jones said. “We have a crutch that we can use, and we’re using it. We’re not stepping up; we’re not getting the job done. And that’s everyone — that’s me, every assistant, and every player.”
BU’s healthy players still have talent, and they will likely be favored in each of their next three games (vs. Lafayette, at American, vs. Loyola). Perhaps they’ll be 3-3 in two weeks, and it will be one more symbol of the topsy-turvy Patriot League. But time is running out for the Terriers to turn their season around.