Courtesy of NavySports.com
ANNAPOLIS, Md. – The Navy men’s basketball team (9-19, 4-13 PL) battled with second-place American (17-11, 13-4 PL) on Wednesday evening at Alumni Hall, but it was the visiting Eagles that made the big plays down the stretch to defeat Navy, 64-55.
The Mids, who will host Loyola on Saturday at 2:00 PM for Senior Day, will play a road game against a yet to be determined opponent on Monday in the Patriot League Tournament’s First Round.
With less than five minutes remaining, American was leading 51-48 when a 3-pointer by freshman Zach Fong that would have tied the game went in-and-out. On American’s next offensive possession, Charlie Jones air-balled a 3-pointer and Navy was going to let the ball go out of bounds, but AU’s Darius Gardner dove out of bounds to save the ball to a teammate and then Jesse Reed buried a 3-pointer from 28-feet as the shot clock expired.
“It was a possession game with four minutes to go and unfortunately we didn’t make the play,” Navy head coach Ed DeChellis said. “The big play was the loose ball at the baseline. You can make a mistake like that early in the game, but when it’s a possession game there is not enough time to recover from plays like that.”
Reed’s triple provided a huge momentum swing and a six-point lead and although a jumper by Navy freshman Tim Abruzzo and a free throw by senior James Loupos pulled Navy to within three at 54-51, John Schoof hit back-to-back 3-pointers from the right corner at the 1:26-mark and at the 52-second mark to push the lead to nine at 60-51.
Navy’s Brandon Venturini made a quick layup and the Mids began to foul, but American made four straight free throws while Navy missed its next four field goals as American pulled away for the 64-55 win.
“I thought our kids executed the game plan pretty well,” said DeChellis. “I thought they played defense pretty well. But we were limited offensively and we didn’t make the big shots.”
After a slow start to the game, Navy pulled ahead at 7-4 after junior forward Worth Smith drove into the lane and converted an and-one play after getting fouled. Shortly after, a 3-pointer by Fong pushed the lead to 10-5.
Navy pulled ahead by six at 17-11 after five-straight points by Venturini, but American responded with a 10-0 run on a pair of triples by Austin Carroll to retake the lead at 21-17 before another 3-pointer by Venturini stopped the spurt.
Navy got back-to-back buckets inside by Loupos as the Mids pulled within one at 27-26 at the end of the first half.
American opened the second half on a 6-2 run before Loupos converted an and-one play off a fast-break layup. Venturini then got into the lane for a layup and then hit a short jumper as Navy pulled ahead at 35-33. After a 3-pointer by Reed, Venturini had a steal and then found Abruzzo for a 3-pointer as Navy went ahead by two.
Smith scored six points over the next few minutes, while American reached the bonus and began converting its free throws, leading up to the Gardner hustle-play and Reed’s shot-clock buzzer-beater. That play, along with Schoof’s late 3-pointers, helped American hold on for the win.
Both Gardner and Schoof finished with 15 points, five rebounds and four assists while Reed had 12 points and a pair of steals.
Venturini led Navy with 18 points, five assists, four steals and two boards. Smith just missed a double-double with his 11 points and nine rebounds. Abruzzo had nine points off the bench while Loupos had eight points, four rebounds and two steals.
Navy forced 18 turnovers against American, but shot just 38.2 percent from the field and 22.2 percent on 3-pointers.
Navy will honor Loupos and fellow senior Thurgood Wynn in a Senior Day Ceremony prior to the Navy-Loyola game on Saturday at 2:00 PM.