Red-hot Navy ends nine-year drought at Bender Arena
by Matthew Cole
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Bender Arena has been a house of horrors for the Navy men’s basketball team over the years. Going into Wednesday night’s Patriot League game against host American, the Midshipmen were an abysmal 2-19 at the cozy facility in northwest Washington.
However, these Mids are red-hot and have suddenly transformed into road warriors.
Junior guard Bryce Dulin scored 15 points to lead five players in double figures as Navy pretty much controlled play from start to finish in beating American, 71-53, before an announced 757 at Bender Arena. Junior forward Tom Lacey notched his fourth double-double of the season with 14 points and 15 rebounds for the Midshipmen, who snapped a nine game losing streak at the gymnasium that opened in 1988.
“We haven’t won here in nine years so I’m very, very excited for our program,” Navy head coach Ed DeChellis said. “To finally come here and win a game and do so in a very solid, workmanlike fashion is big.”
Sophomore point guard Hasan Abdullah totaled 14 points and five assists for Navy (11-10, 6-3), which has won seven straight to move above .500 for the first time all season. Junior swingman Shawn Anderson and sophomore forward George Kiernan contributed 10 points apiece for the Mids, who remained in a three-way tie for second place in the Patriot League.
“I thought we had a very, very solid evening on both ends of the floor. I thought several guys played well,” DeChellis said. “When you have five guys in double figures like we did tonight, that’s a good sign. I thought we spread the ball around pretty well.”
Sophomore forward Lonnie Rivera scored 13 points to lead American (5-15, 2-7), which has dropped eight of its last 10. Freshman guard Sa’eed Nelson and freshman center Mark Gasperini both netted 11 points for the Eagles, who led for just 17 seconds in the entire game.
Senior forward Edward Alade added eight points and four rebounds for Navy, which has its longest winning streak in Patriot League play since capturing 12 in a row over the course of the 2000 and 2001 seasons. Four of those six wins have come on the road.
“I think our team is doing a really good job of preparation. They’ve also done a good job with focus. Our guard play has been much better,” DeChellis said. “Our guys are just playing with a lot of confidence. The key for us is defense, rebounding and taking care of the ball. The kids have bought into that and are doing a good job. We’re starting to play on all cylinders and guys are having fun.”
Lacey was an absolute beast on the boards, grabbing 10 rebounds on the offensive end. That was one shy of the school record set by the 6-foot-7, 235-pounder earlier this season against Bryant. It should be noted that Navy did not record offensive rebounds as a statistic during the David Robinson era.
“I think Tom Lacey’s rebounding was just tremendous. With about eight minutes to go we lost our rhythm a little bit offensively and I thought Tom did a great job of getting us second shots,” DeChellis said. “Tom really has a knack for getting the ball off the glass.”
Navy hauled down a total of 16 offensive rebounds and converted them into 16 second-chance points. Six other players had one offensive board each.
“I’ve challenged Lacey and Ed Alade and our wings to be offensive rebounders. That’s a focus every day in practice,” DeChellis said.
Abdullah continues to do an outstanding job of running the offense and committed just one turnover while also making 4 of 6 3-pointers. He hit consecutive shots from beyond the arc after American had cut a a 15-point lead down to seven with 6:46 remaining in the game.
“Hasan just has great confidence right now. It was an eight or nine point game and he bangs two threes back-to-back. That kind of breaks your spirit a little bit,” DeChellis said. “Hasan has really played well here in the last month and that’s one of the main reasons why we’ve won a few games. He’s kind of found himself.”
Dulin has also gotten into a good groove offensively, averaging almost 16 points over the past five games. The 6-foot-4 Missouri native scored off a mixture of short pullup jumpers and drives to the basket in making 5 of 7 from the field on Wednesday night.
“My teammates are getting me open and I’m getting some good looks,” Dulin said. “Hasan and Shawn are really good creators off the dribble so a lot of the credit goes to them. They’re penetrating and kicking to me.”
Anderson had nine points to lead six different scorers as Navy took a 35-25 halftime lead. Dulin added eight points for the Midshipmen, who shot a sizzling 54 percent (13-for-24) from the field in the opening frame.
Alade threw down a two-handed dunk and hit a nifty turnaround in the lane as Navy raced to an 11-0 lead just minutes into the contest. Gasperini hit a 3-pointer and a jumper to spark a 12-0 run that gave American its only lead.
It didn’t last long as Anderson scored six points to spark a 16-4 run that put the Mids back ahead by 11, 27-16 with just over six minutes remaining. Kiernan came off the bench to cram seven points into a short span and help Navy takes its largest lead of 13 points at the 4:23 mark.
Nelson had nine points to lead American, which was out-rebounded 19-8 in the first half.
Navy returns to Alumni Hall on Saturday afternoon when its hosts Holy Cross (11-11, 5-4), which lost to Loyola on Wednesday to fall out of a four-way tie for second behind Patriot League leader Bucknell (16-6, 8-1).