ANNAPOLIS, Md. – He’s played just three games in his Navy basketball career. But there’s no mistaking the impact of freshman point guard Tilman Dunbar.
Wednesday night against Binghamton, Dunbar had more assists (11) than all of the Bearcats combined (six) in a 75-52 victory, which broke Navy’s 23-game losing streak against Division I teams.
On a night when he became the first Navy player to post double-digit assists since 2009, Dunbar (16 points, two steals) repeatedly penetrated the lane and created easy opportunities for his mates. In addition to his assists were several passes to teammates underneath that produced free-throw opportunities as Navy hit 24 of 38.
“Dunbar was a real problem,” Binghamton first-year coach Tommy Dempsey said. “They got better shots than we did and I thought he was a big reason why. He was just facilitating, creating. He drove us nuts tonight.”
With five minutes left, Dunbar assured the win for Navy (2-1), working off a pick at the top of the key, driving, and feeding 6-10 sophomore Jared Smoot (eight points, nine rebounds) across the lane for a slam dunk. Moments later, Dunbar made a steal and streaked for a fast-break layup giving the the Mids 64-47 lead.
“I knew I could get by my defender,” Tilman, a 5-foot-10 graduate of Paul VI, said. “I was worried about drawing the second defender and finding my teammates on the weak side or under the basket.”
Dunbar found plenty of them, including sophomore forward Worth Smith (13 points, six rebounds) and junior guard Thurgood Wynn (11 points, nine rebounds).
Against a depleted Binghamton (0-3) team, rocked by scandal in recent years, Navy took control in the final five minutes of the first half. Holding the Bearcats without a field goal, the Mids closed the half with a 16-2 run highlighted by a pair of 3-pointers by freshman Kendall Knorr and a steal and a breakaway slam by junior Isaiah Roberts (six points, four rebounds, three assists).
The rally gave Navy a 37-26 halftime lead, which Binghamton never seriously threatened.
The Mids’ defense limited the Bearcats to 32.7 percent shooting overall, 14.3 percent from beyond the arc, and forced 18 turnovers.
“We couldn’t get the shots we wanted and we were taking tough shots,” Binghamton junior Roland Brown (12 points, seven rebounds) said. “The ball was stagnant. Sometimes we were watching instead of moving.”
The opposite was true at the other end, where the Mids remained in motion with Dunbar the orchestrator.
“He’s really improved,” Navy coach Ed DeChellis said. “He’s really bought into getting other guys shots – driving, kicking, and making plays for other people.”
With freshman guard Jordan Reed (15 points, 11 rebounds) scoring 13 of his points in a span of 6:08 early in the second half, Binghamton sliced a 14-point deficit to 50-45. But Navy answered with an elbow jumper by Smith which triggered a 10-0 run and put the Mids comfortably in the lead, allowing Dunbar to enjoy the final minutes.
“He smiles a lot,” DeChellis said. “Guys who do smile, got a good sense of humor, they know what they’re doing. And they have confidence in themselves they can get the job done.”