Navy men’s basketball coach Ed DeChellis sat on a bench in Halsey Field House before practice earlier this week discussing the Midshipmen’s historic losing streak when he turned to his left and pointed at the Alumni Trophy resting on a table.
The trophy is presented annually to the winner of the Army-Navy Star game, which is the second meeting of the season between the service academy rivals. Not that DeChellis’s players necessarily require a reminder of what’s at stake on Saturday in West Point, N.Y., but with Navy (3-20, 0-9) mired in a school-record 16-game slide, the first-year coach is using any means possible to motivate and keep spirits elevated.
The trophy resides in Annapolis because of the Midshipmen’s 75-58 victory on Feb. 11, 2011, and if they are to claim it for a seventh time in nine Star games, they’ll need to win their first Patriot League game of the season and for the first time overall since Nov. 27.
“There’s the trophy right there,” DeChellis said. “And we want to keep it here. It’s about the win. It’s about they came down here and thumped us. We weren’t very good that night. They played extremely well, and we’ve got to go up there, and we’ve got to try to repay the favor.”
DeChellis was referring to a 75-62 loss to Army on Jan. 14 at Alumni Hall that was Navy’s 10th in a row. Army used runs of 19-3 and 16-4 to pull away and win for the first time in Annapolis since 2007-08. It also was the most lopsided win for the Black Knights at Alumni Hall since 1971.
J.J. Avila led the Midshipmen in that game with 21 points and 11 rebounds. The 6-foot-7 sophomore forward also logged six steals to match an Army-Navy game record. But four games later, Avila was not in the lineup after being suspended indefinitely for violating academy rules.
Then on Wednesday, Avila, according to published reports, completed paperwork to resign from the school and left for his home in Texas. Avila, who had missed the past two games, led Navy in points (15.9), rebounds (7.2), assists (2.9) and steals (1.8) and was named Patriot League rookie of the year last season.
“We’re getting used to it,” sophomore guard Isaiah Roberts said of Avila’s absence. “Other guys just have to chip in. Some people have to get seven points. Some people have to get four points. Everyone has to chip in and work that much harder.”
Avila’s departure is the latest in a series of mishaps for the Midshipmen after DeChellis unexpectedly announced his resignation from Penn State last season to come to Navy. Since winning the first two games, Navy is 1-20 and ranks near the bottom of the NCAA’s 344 division I schools in scoring (58.8 points per game) and field goal percentage defense (47 percent).
They are 339th in the NCAA in three-point shooting percentage (27.4 percent) and are on pace to finish with the second-lowest scoring average in school history. In Patriot League games, the Midshipmen are shooting 39 percent overall and 26 percent from three-point range.
Contributing to Navy’s woes has been the uneven play of senior guard Jordan Sugars, who was a preseason first-team Patriot League selection. He is the seventh player in school history with at least 1,200 points and 600 rebounds and has started 41 games in a row, but as the team’s leading scorer (11.4) among current players on the roster, he’s scored in single digits nine times and once logged zero points.
Sugars did score 20 points on Wednesday in a 64-52 loss to Holy Cross at Alumni Hall, but he had combined for 10 points in the two previous games and failed to reach double figures in three of the last four.
Sugars, though, is averaging 15.7 points in seven career games against Army. In Navy’s first game against Army (10-14, 3-6) this season, Sugars had 17 points, including going 8 of 12 from the free throw line, and four rebounds.
“This is the biggest game of our season,” Sugars said. “Not only is it a rivalry game, but on top of that, the way the season’s been going, it’s a great opportunity for us to kind of change the atmosphere right now and to get us started going toward the end of the season because even with everything that’s gone on this year, it’s still not over.”