Navy dared Bucknell's Darryl Shazier to beat them Saturday night in both team's Patriot League opener.
Shazier, described by Bucknell head coach Dave Paulsen as a "pass-first point guard," scorched the Mids for 28 points, including 23 in the second half, leading the Bison (10-7) to a 71-64 win over Navy (5-12). The teams played in front of a lively crowd of 3,818, which was the 6th largest non-Army game crowd in Alumni Hall history.
"Looking at their film, Shazier was the least of their threats," said Navy coach Billy Lange of his strategy to dispense with the Mids' usual matchup zone defense. Navy played most of the contest in man-to-man, and did an extremely effective job running under Bucknell's ball screens, forcing Shazier to drive and shoot rather than pass.
It almost worked.
"For the first 32 minutes, that was the best defense in my seven years here," said Lange.
"That was the first time this season people guarded us the way Navy did – Navy did a great job getting up on our ball screens," said Paulsen. "We told Shazier at halftime to take what the defense was giving him and look to shoot."
The first half was a typical conference opener – relatively sloppy, but evenly played. Both teams shot 11-for-28 from the field in a stanza that saw 4 ties and two lead changes. Navy held its biggest lead at 26-18 after freshman JJ Avila hit a three-pointer, but Bucknell outscored the Mids, 9-2, over the last 4:50 until halftime to only trail 28-27 at the break.
The second half started much like the first half, with neither team able to gain much of a lead. The Mids took their biggest lead in the half at 37-34 after a Greg Brown three-pointer, but Shazier then scored five straight points in a 30-second burst that seemed to pump up the Bison as much as it deflated the Mids, who called timeout to stem the tide.
It worked momentarily as Jordan Sugars hit a layup to tie the game again at 39-all with just over 13 minutes left to play, but that would be as close as Navy could get the rest of the way as the Mids went scoreless for the next three minutes. Bucknell took advantage to extend their lead to 6 and were able to maintain a comfortable margin the rest of the way.
Navy did cut the Bison lead to two on three separate occasions; the last being at 62-60 with 2:39 to play, but again the Mids went scoreless at an inopportune time. This time the drought was over two minutes long and Bucknell was able to run the lead back up to 5 to ice the game.
Avila led the Mids with 20 points, while Jordan Sugars had 12 and OJ Avworo contribute 11. Mike Muscala had 19 points for Bucknell, while Joe Willman had 12 critical points, according to Paulsen.
"Joe Willman kept us afloat for a time there."
"We needed to make shots to win the game," said Lange. "But our spirit is not broken. We have things to work on even if we had won. Our record is so not indicative of our effort."
Navy returns to action on Wednesday, January 8th, when they travel to Lehigh for a 7 pm contest.
After a successful first two years at Navy, J.J. Avila has transferred to Richmond…