Coach Billy Lange sees a quality in this Navy team that hasn’t always been apparent in the other teams he’s coached at the Academy. It’s the players’ commitment to playing together, what Lange describes as a “sense of oneness.”
“We’ve talked about it ad nauseam since I’ve been here,” Lange said. “I think each team has raised its level every year, but I feel like this group really understands it. . . . As coaches, we all talk about [cohesiveness]. It sounds like it’s so simple, but it’s really more important than any X or O that you do. Because if guys don’t play as one, then it’s not going to matter that much.
“I think the biggest thing is them understanding what that really means. It’s not just liking each other during good times or text-messaging each other. It’s being together through adversity.”
That togetherness has resulted in an impressive start for Navy. The Midshipmen (11-4) finished the nonconference season with their most wins in nine seasons. It’s only the third time since they joined the Patriot League in the 1991-92 season that they’ve won that many games out of conference. Picked to finish sixth in the preseason poll, Navy enters league play with more victories than any of its conference rivals.
Perhaps the most noticeable benefit of this cohesiveness has been Navy’s record in close games. The Midshipmen are 6-1 in contests decided by five or fewer points. When the game is on the line, the Midshipmen pull together rather than pull apart.
“We keep talking to our guys about how precious it is,” Lange said. “More than the preparation for winning those games at the end is the preparation for how important every possession is, from the jump ball until the last second.”
Navy leads the league in scoring, averaging 73.7 points per game, and boasts two of the conference’s top scorers, senior guard Kaleo Kina (19.2 ppg) and junior guard Chris Harris (16.1 ppg). Senior guard Clif Colbert has come on strong lately, averaging 10.7 points and 6.3 rebounds in his last three games. He averages 5.6 points and 4.7 rebounds for the season.
But scoring has never been a problem for Navy. Defense, on the other hand, can be the Midshipmen’s downfall. Navy’s opponents are averaging 70.5 points per game, and the disparity between home and away games is startling. The Midshipmen allow 65 points at home, but give up 75.3 on the road.
“I feel we have improved significantly in the defensive area,” Lange said. “I mean, it’s been our stress since Day One. I feel like we’ve done a much better job. More importantly than the points, and even more than the statistics, I’ve got to look at our attitude [toward defense] and it has improved significantly.
“What I would say more than anything, we have to develop consistency, whether it’s at home or on the road on that end of the floor. I think the attitude is much improved. I think the fundamentals are much improved. I think our commitment is much improved, but there’s got to be some consistency.”
January 8, 2009; 6:00 AM ET
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