EMMITSBURG, Md. — The Mayhem defense of Mount St. Mary’s is suffocating and relentless. But teams that break it are rewarded with layups and open shots from the perimeter. Composure and patience are required against the Mountaineers, especially in their noisy bandbox gym.
Friday night when Navy visited Knott Arena, the Midshipmen demonstrated these virtues after the Mountaineers hit them with their best stuff in the first half. But after rallying from a 17-point deficit in the second half, Navy didn’t have the finishing touch in a 72-65 defeat before 1,851.
George Mason transfer Rashad Whack (18 points, four steals), who started the game with 3-pointers on the Mountaineers’ first three possessions, closed it in similar fashion, making a pair of threes in the final five minutes that proved decisive.
The work of the junior guard trumped the play of a pair of Navy freshmen. Point guard Tilman Dunbar (18 points, five assists) and wing Kendall Knorr (14 points) led the comeback which got the Mids to within 60-58 with less than five minutes left.
But Whack answered with a 3-pointer from the top of the key and made a steal, which Sam Prescott (15 points) converted into another 3-pointer for a 66-58 lead.
Navy (5-6) had 15 turnovers, but considering how the defense of Mount St. Mary’s (4-3) has bamboozled opponents, it was a solid night for the Midshipmen. The Mountaineers have forced an average of 19 turnovers per game.
“We didn’t have crazy turnovers,” Navy coach Ed DeChellis said. “Fifteen turnovers is not off the charts. But give them credit, they made big shots.”
The defense of Mount St. Mary’s is patterned after the Havoc defense of Virginia Commonwealth. Rookie coach Jamion Christian, a former player at Mount St. Mary’s, was an assistant last season at VCU. When he was hired, Whack said he was excited about the prospect of the Mountaineers taking on the rugged, gambling personality of the Rams.
The downside of the Mount St. Mary’s defense is that, in its zeal to double-team the ball and force mistakes, the Mountaineers leave players open. Teams are shooting 57.2 percent against Mount St. Mary’s, the worst figure in the nation by a significant margin. The next-to-worst shooting percentage defense is that of Fairleigh Dickinson (52.3 percent).
“Once we figured out how to break it, we were off to the races,” Dunbar said.
Navy shot 58 percent both overall and from beyond the arc, where it made 7 of 12. The Mids got back in the game, however, with a 1-3-1 zone in the second half that disturbed the rhythm of the Mountaineers.
“Great move by coach DeChellis, going to a 1-3-1,” Christian said. “We didn’t push the ball like we did in the first half. I attribute that a little bit to us not playing with a lot of leads.”
A 3-pointer by Whack gave Mount St. Mary’s a 15-point lead with less than 14 minutes left. But Navy responded with an 18-5 run, started and finished with 3-pointers by Knorr, as Navy cut the lead to two, only to see the Mount reestablish control.
“Kids fought. They had the competitive spirit I’m looking for. They gave themselves a chance to win,” DeChellis said. “That’s the fiber I’m looking for. I think that’s a very, very important fiber.”
Notes: Navy hit only 8 of 17 free throws. “It’s kind of been our problem all season long,” Dunbar said. “It kinda hurts since we were so close.” … Resurgent sophomore forward James Loupos (11 points) hit 4 of 5 shots for Navy. “Confidence – it’s that crazy thing,” DeChellis said. “I’m happy for him. He works really, really hard.”