Before the Navy basketball team tipped off against Delaware on Friday night, Shawn Anderson was presented with a basketball in a short ceremony to mark the occasion of his reaching the 1,000-point plateau for his career last weekend. It was a nice honor for the senior, who became only the 24th Navy player to reach that milestone. It also highlighted why there is so much optimism about this Navy basketball team; Anderson is one of several veteran players that should give Navy the kind of experience it takes to navigate their way through any type of game.
That theory was put to the test on Friday night, as Navy lost a 15-point second-half lead before coming back to take down Delaware (4-4), 82-76, in Alumni Hall. Anderson had 20 points and matched a career-best six assists for the Midshipmen (6-3), while fellow senior Bryce Dulin scored 30 points in a career night of his own.
“I thought these two guys, these two seniors played really well in the first half,” said Navy coach Ed DeChellis. “Shawn was driving the basketball and getting to the paint. Bryce made shots. When you get 50 points out of your two wings, that’s a pretty good night for us.”
“Everyone was just getting me open,” said Dulin of his performance. “Just in the flow of the game, people were able to find me. I was just hitting today.”
“They’re a really good basketball team, extremely well coached,” said Delaware coach Martin Ingelsby. “They’re old and experienced. They’ve got three seniors and two juniors against a little of our youth. I thought they did a good job running their stuff and taking advantage of some matchups. They got to the foul line a lot and capitalized.”
Navy went into the locker room at halftime with a 35-27 lead, playing tight defense that held Delaware to only 37.5% shooting from the floor. Navy, meanwhile, shot 54.5% in the half, thanks to excellent penetration from Anderson. Against the man-to-man defense of Delaware that was missing injured 6’9” junior Eric Carter, Anderson was able to drive to the basket five times to pick up 11 first-half points.
The start of the second half was more of the same. Navy scored a quick five points after Hasan Abdullah found Anderson on a backdoor cut underneath the basket, while Dulin hit one of his four three-pointers on the Mids’ next trip down the court. That prompted Ingelsby to call a timeout to regroup and change his strategy.
“I think I got into some guys and just said we’ve got to play harder,” Ingelsby said. “We went smaller, which really helped us offensively. We were struggling to score.
“They’re a disciplined team. They run good gap coverages, and they’re really good with guarding the ball screen. We weren’t able to take advantage of that with our big guys in there, so I said we’ve got nothing to lose, we’re going to go small, we’re going to switch everything.”
The move to a smaller lineup paid off, sparking a 17-0 run that took only 2:40 and gave Delaware a 47-43 lead with 12:45 to play. DeChellis took center Evan Wieck out of the game after the sophomore picked up his fourth foul early in the half, which allowed the Blue Hens to spread the floor and drive to the basket. Navy tried switching to a zone defense to compensate, but Delaware, which has struggled to make three-pointers this season, started to hit from outside.
“I was just trying to break their rhythm, really, and then they found their rhythm in the zone,” said DeChellis. “They just made shots, and it wasn’t just one guy. They spread it all around. We tried to break their rhythm, but the zone didn’t really do much for us either, so we went back to just guarding the way we think we could guard and played man on man to do a better job of guarding the three-point line.”
“I thought we did a good job keeping guys in front in that segment to get back in it," said Ingelsby. “It’s amazing what happened when we got some stops. We got down the floor, and guys got some confidence on the offensive end. We really changed the momentum of the game by going small, but then we had some key guys get into some foul trouble. I had two of our perimeter players with four fouls with eight minutes to go. Then I had to make some decisions.”
Freshman Cam Davis stopped the bleeding with a three-pointer to pull the Mids back within one at 47-46 with 12:15 to play. From there, Navy’s experience began to shine as the Mids were able to regroup and regain the lead. Delaware did a better job of keeping Anderson from driving to the basket in the second half, but the senior was able to find teammates for open jumpers.
“Like any good team, they made adjustments,” Anderson said. “In the second half, they started to collapse and close the lanes that we had in the first half. I just stayed poised, stayed under control, and trusted my teammates to make the shot.”
“We’ve been through it all. We’ve seen it before,” Dulin said. “We’ve been down 25 and come back and won, and been up 25 and someone’s come back and beat us. We’ve been there before. For us, it’s just staying calm. We’ve got an older group this year, and that’s great for us. It’s a big help, staying calm in the moment.”
Tyler Riemersma’s free throw with 7:51 remaining gave Navy the lead for good. The Mids shot 74% from the line to keep Delaware from regaining the lead; 18 of the 31 points that Navy scored over the last ten minutes were on free throws.
“They took the lead, and we were able to take the lead back,” said DeChellis. “That shows some toughness, both mentally and physically with our squad. I’m really proud of these guys. They found a way to win the game.”
Both coaches expressed frustration over the number of fouls called, although it probably hurt Delaware more. A young team with a short bench that that was already missing the injured Carter, Ingelsby’s squad had three players foul out by the end of the game.
“It was hard,” he said. “I thought a couple ones were close, but that’s a veteran officiating crew. Those guys are good guys. We’ve just got to do a better job playing without fouling.”
DeChellis also felt that his players needed to play smarter.
“Wieck’s got four [fouls], and we didn’t really get much out of him,” he said. “George Kiernan, who usually comes off the bench and gives us some stuff, he played eight minutes and had four fouls, so now we’ve got to get deeper into our bench and play our freshmen. Tyler Riemersma stepped up and played big, made some free throws, and did a really good job for us. That’s how deep we had to go. Those guys off the bench did a good job.
“We’ve got to get some other guys playing better if we want to continue to win some games and be the kind of team we want to be. Hasan [Abdullah] can play better. George can play better, and those are two important pieces for us.”
While Navy’s seniors played a big part in the game’s outcome, they weren’t alone. Riemersma was 3-4 from the line and pulled down five rebounds in 11 minutes. Fellow freshman Cam Davis was 3-4 from three-point range. DeChellis felt good about the effort of his younger players.
“Cam’s hit some big shots for us. Ryan Pearson’s the same way. He made a big shot in the first half. I couldn’t get them more time in the game because Bryce and Shawn were just playing so well. You just can’t get those two guys out of the game when they’re scoring the way they’re scoring, but we’ve got confidence in our bench. Cam came in and did a nice job. Ryan came in and took a charge and made a basket in the first half as well. Tyler came in and did some good things for us.”
Home sweet home?
Navy came into Friday night’s matchup having played eight games over the first three weeks of the season. Six of those games were away from home, and the players were happy to be back in Alumni Hall.
“It’s huge to come back in front of your home crowd,” said Anderson. “It was a great atmosphere tonight, and just a great collective win for the program. Now we’ve got to move on and get another one on Sunday.”
“We always want to protect home court. It’s big for us. It’s a long season. We just have to keep grinding it out, sticking with what we do.”
DeChellis, though, was a bit more reserved in his excitement.
“I didn’t think we had great pop at shooting practice today though, to be honest with you,” he said. “Our strength coach is warming up the guys; it’s a little different. You get back home, you think you’re excited to be back home, and I think the guys are, but it’s a little different atmosphere. You’ve got to get back in the swing of things.
“It’s December 1st, and we’ve only played two home games. The Pitt game we knew we’d be ready to play, Washington College ten days ago really didn’t give us a great, great fight, so we knew this was going to be a hard one. And the game on Sunday is going to be a really, really hard one. We know we’ve got our work cut out for us here on Sunday afternoon. But it’s fun to be home. At least the guys can sleep in their own beds.”
Navy will be back in action on Sunday afternoon against Morgan State (4-3) in Alumni Hall.