Navy Coach Billy Lange, viewing a tape of American’s 30-point victory over Colgate in preparation for the Midshipmen’s game against the Eagles on Wednesday night, watched in admiration as AU dismantled the Red Raiders. What Lange wouldn’t give for a blowout win like that.
“We would have to play out of our minds to do that,” Lange said. “We’re just not that [kind of a team]. We’re 20 games into the year, I’m sure our fans, and even as a coach a little bit, I’d like to see us put somebody away.”
Navy (14-6, 3-2 Patriot) has spent most of this season living successfully, for the most part, on the edge. The Midshipmen are 8-2 in games decided by five points or less and 12 of their 20 games have been decided by less than 10 points. Their six-point win against Holy Cross on Jan. 21 was their largest margin of victory since they beat Penn, 76-65, on Dec. 5.
“I think this is a credit to our kids,” Lange said. “The way we would win a game by 20 is the same way we’re winning it by two, is just to value every possession. Then we’d have to get hot and the other team is going to have to not score. We kind of are who we are. . . . I feel like our guys are ready for those [close] games. We’ve had some luck on our side, as I think all teams that win those games do, but I also feel like we’ve had some poise and leadership out on the floor that allowed us to win those games because they could have gone either way.”
While a close game seemingly favors Navy, so should playing at home. The Midshipmen are 9-0 at Alumni Hall this season, their best home record since the 1985-86 season when they played at Halsey Field House.
Navy appears to be a completely different team at home than on the road. While the Midshipmen’s scoring average is about the same on an opponent’s home court as it is in Alumni Hall (74.3 points per game at home, 71.3 points per game on the road), the big difference is defensively. They allow just 65.6 points per game at home, but 74.5 points per game on the road – a nearly 10-point difference. Lange said he has no explanation for why his team performs so much better at home.
“It’s funny,” he said. “I just don’t subscribe to [home-court advantage], in terms of you’ve got to win at home and you can accept losing on the road. Because our road losses could have been wins, and some of our home wins could have been losses. It’s probably the crowd. We’ve got a great crowd.”
Two players to keep an eye on in this game are Navy’s Kaleo Kina and American’s Garrison Carr, though neither senior guard has been playing particularly well lately. Carr, the Patriot League preseason player of the year, is the league’s second-leading scorer at 17.5 points per game, but he’s been in a bit of a shooting slump. After scoring 20 or more points seven times, including a 34-point outing against UMBC, he’s topped 20 points only once in league play. The biggest difference has been from behind the arc. Seven times he went for five or more threes in a game before league play began. Since it's started, he's sank a total of eight threes.
Kina, the league’s top scorer at 18.2 points per game, has failed to score in double figures in Navy’s past two games – going a combined 4 of 24 from the floor -- after finishing with 10 points or more in the first 18 games. Kina was averaging 19.2 points per game on 43 percent shooting in nonconference games. But since he started going up against Patriot League opponents, his scoring average (in league games only) has dropped to 15.4 points per game on 35.2 percent shooting.
“I think it is a combination of the shoulder injury [from the Longwood game] lingering and him just having to make some mental adjustments during the course of the game,” Lange said. “I’m looking right now, Garrison Carr is shooting 28 percent from three [in league games]. We all know he’s capable of more than that. Hopefully, he doesn’t get it going against us. I just think the familiarity of league play really makes it hard for some of these guys because they’re not overly athletic where they’re just going to dominate. I just think [league play] makes it difficult.
“I think Kaleo will get it back going. We certainly need him to do it. In the meantime, even though he’s been struggling percentage-wise, he’s still come up with some clutch baskets when we’ve needed him to.”
January 28, 2009; 6:04 AM ET
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