Costly defensive breakdowns and a failure to close out the game when they had the chance doomed the Midshipmen Tuesday night, as Jordan Brickman’s three-point attempt at the end of regulation hit the rim short and allowed the Monmoth Hawks to preserve their first win of the year.
Navy dropped to 3-7 on the season while Monmoth improved to 1-8. DeChellis, for his part, wasn’t taking anything positive away from the game. To listen to his postgame comments was to listen to a coach frustrated by a team taken out of its element and unable to capitalize on similar early season lessons which have now cost Navy five games by single-digit totals.
“It was a really poor effort defensively, from start to finish,” said the first year head coach, who took over a youthful Navy program after leaving Penn State a year ago.
“I thought this young team doesn’t really value each possession, offensively or defensively. That’s been a very hard thing for them to understand – that you have to value each possession on both ends of the floor.”
DeChellis was particularly frustrated in the style of play Monmoth forced Navy into. While he has been attempting to transition Navy from a fast-break, three-point shot heavy offense to a defensively staunch, possession-oriented team, the Hawks forced the Mids into an uncomfortable pace from the onset. Monmoth point guard Jesse Steele directed the Hawk attack, totaling 20 points and slicing through the Navy defense to keep the game even for much of the first half.
After a slow start from both teams -- which included a turnover by Navy junior point guard Jordan Brickman -- the Mids got a boost from senior guard Jordan Sugars on an early-three pointer. Sugars’ early three set an ominous tone for a game in which the Mids attempted their most three-pointers (28 attempts) on the season. Converting on just 10 of those threes (35.7%), the young Navy group proved exactly why DeChellis has been trying to move his team away from being so aggressive from beyond the arc.
“That’s not who we are,” DeChellis said. “We’re not high-powered enough to outscore people.”
Attempting to break an 11-game losing game which extended back to last season, Monmoth came out playing inspired offense in the paint Tuesday night, slowing the game down with heady post-play every time Navy looked to pull away. The teams traded leads for much of the first half, exchanging the edge on seven occasions and drawing even three separate times. Despite the inconsistency, DeChellis’ team took a 37-34 point lead into the half.
It would prove to be the high-point of the game for Navy, as a failure to rebound and close out Monmoth in the second half ultimately outdid the Mids before the announced crowd of 1,682 at Alumni Hall.
“They killed us on the glass the second half,” DeChellis said. “For (us) to win basketball games we need to defend and we need to rebound the ball.”
Navy’s defense had no answer for the 5-foot-8 Steele. When he wasn’t padding his 4-of-6 resume from three-point land he and his teammates were out-hustling and outworking Navy on the glass, compiling a game-changing nine of their team’s 13 rebounds in the second half. Watching his team allow Monmoth to out-rebound his own was all the more difficult for DeChellis given that he thought the Mids had made progress on defense after holding a high-powered Elon attack to just 51 points in a narrow loss last Saturday.
“It’s frustrating because you think you’re making strides. We played such a great defensive game the other night against Elon, then we come in here tonight and just played horrible defensively and didn’t rebound.”
“I don’t care what way you play, you’ve got to defend,” he added. “I don’t care what you want to do, but you better defend, you better rebound the ball.”
Despite the inconsistency on defense and from beyond the arc, Navy had its chances.
Up 62-60 with five minutes to go, Brickman committed Navy’s seventh team foul of the half to set up the one-and-one. But Monmoth was slow to capitalize. Navy, unfortunately, was equally as slow. Freshman Worth Smith missed the front end of a one-and-one which could have made the game a two-possession contest, paving the way for Monmoth to tie the game at 62 with two and a half minutes to go. Monmoth took the lead with 100 seconds left in the game when forward Ed Waite converted a lay-up.
Navy had an opportunity to come right back, but Smith turned the ball over and then fouled Monmouth’s Steele. According Navy sophomore forward J.J. Avila, the late-game collapse was indicative of the same problems which have plagued the Mids through their 3-7 start.
“We’re our biggest opponent,” said Avila, who led all Midshipmen scorers with 14 points. “The only way we lose is to beat ourselves. We lost a lot of close games because, at the end, we just fold. We’ve got to get mentally tougher.”
When asked what else he and his teammates have to do to win close games like the one Tuesday night, he shrugged before adding, “play harder.”
Navy attempted to rally following a Jordan Sugars lay-in and forcing a Monmoth turnover, but Isaiah Roberts’ runner rattled off the rim with time ticking down, forcing Navy to foul Steele once again. Displaying nerves equal to his namesake, the junior guard sunk both his free throws to put Monmoth up 68-64.
According to DeChellis, the ability of Monmoth and Steele to convert when the pressure was on – and the failure of his own players to do the same – ultimately undid the Mids’ comeback hopes.
“It’s a fine line between winning and losing. We are not a team that has figured out how to win yet. We have a lot of young players who have not won and who are trying to figure out how to win.”
“When the lights come on at crunch time you’ve got to be able to execute your stuff,” he added. “You’ve got to be able to get the ball where you need to score with it.”
Navy got one more chance to pull even at the end of regulation, but a running three-point attempt by Brickman rimmed off short, sending a dejected Navy team back to the sidelines. As if knowing the loss to a previously winless team wasn’t going to project confidence into a young team now faced with playing Missouri on Saturday, DeChellis gathered his team to regroup. His message, as it has been all year, was a simple one.
“We’re going to continue and fight.”