For the second time this season, Navy went toe-to-toe with the best team in the Patriot League and came up just short. The Midshipmen had American on the ropes late in the game on Wednesday night, but the Eagles pulled away to win 64-59 at Bender Arena.
American is the only Patriot League team to sweep Navy this season, winning by a total of six points. Despite the loss, the Midshipmen secured the No. 3 seed going into next week’s Patriot League tournament regardless of Saturday’s outcome against Colgate.
“We knew it was going to be a war, and it was a war,” senior forward Adam Teague said. “They’ve got great players and they played well. We got down early, battled back. At the end, it just comes down to possession basketball. . . . We fought hard. I’m not disappointed in our performance.”
The most impressive aspect of Navy’s near-upset was its defense. The Midshipmen have not been known for inhibiting their opponents’ scoring. But against American, after initially allowing the Eagles comfortable shooting from behind the arc, Navy did a much better job limiting their three-point opportunities. American made seven threes in the first half, but only two after halftime.
“We started buckling down with about seven minutes left in the first half,” Navy Coach Billy Lange said. “It kind of carried through to the second.”
After sinking a three to go up by 12 with 5 minutes 44 seconds left in the first half, American did not make another field goal before halftime. The Eagles, who had been shooting above 50 percent, missed three shots and turned it over three times against Navy’s defense. In the second half, American struggled to make a shot. The Eagles missed 20 of their 28 attempts, a dismal 28.6 percent. For the game, the Eagles, who usually make 46.3 percent of their field goals, shot just 38.2 percent.
“We played good enough defensively on the road against the leading field goal percentage team in the league to win this game,” Lange said. “I’m way more confident right now heading into [the tournament] next week than I was at this time last year. I know that we can get stops. Again, we’ve got to execute a little bit better.”
Against the top scoring defense in the league, Navy’s offense wilted down the stretch. With the score tied at 56 with three minutes remaining, the Midshipmen missed four of their five shot attempts and turned the ball over twice.
Though the loss to American was a setback, Navy was encouraged by its performance.
“At this point, I think we’re as good as anybody in the league,” Lange said. “We have to play [the game] our way. Our margin of error might not be as big as some other people’s, but I love our team. I thought our toughness was exceptional. [The players] could have quit and folded at any time, and they didn’t do it and we had a chance to win the game.”
February 26, 2009; 6:00 AM ET
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