Black Knights swept series last year
For most college basketball teams, the most anticipated game on the schedule is one played at home. But that's not the case for Navy. The date the Midshipmen circle on their calendars is their annual visit to Army.
With Navy winning a series-record 11 straight times in their heated football rivalry, the basketball game at intimate Christl Arena in West Point, N.Y., is a chance for a measure of Army comeuppance. As a result, the cadets come out in volume and full-throated force. Each of the last three years, the Navy game has established a new attendance record for the 28-year-old arena.
Six weeks removed from the school's football victory, Navy (6-12, 0-2) can expect more of the same Sunday when it plays at Army (8-9, 1-1).
|Navy at Army|
|When » Sunday, noon|
|Where » Christl Arena,|
|West Point, N.Y.|
|TV » CBS Sports Network|
"Going up there is going to be a crazy environment," Navy sophomore Brandon Venturini said. "Their court is a lot more compressed. The fans are right on top of us there. It's louder, and it's rowdier."
With cadets seated on both baselines very close to the court, the arena has a suffocating atmosphere. Last year's crowd of 5,189, which was 46 beyond capacity, urged Army to a 69-63 victory in double overtime as the Black Knights completed their first sweep of the Mids in 20 years.
"A whole bunch of people packed right on the floor, and it's really loud," Navy sophomore Worth Smith said. "I think I like playing Army up there better than here."
The Mids view last year's game at West Point as an opportunity lost. They missed free throws at the end of regulation and the first overtime and had a four-point lead in the first extra period. The game is symptomatic of the late-game woes that have plagued Navy for two seasons as it has lost 17 of its last 18 games decided by single-digits, a difficult routine to accept for second-year coach Ed DeChellis, who went 11-5 in single-digit games in his final year at Penn State.
"It's guys making critical mistakes and younger players making critical mistakes," DeChellis said. "Right now we're not a team that's full of confidence."
After a solid start, Navy has lost six straight as foes have caught on to the ball-screening tactics the Mids use to free freshman point guard Tilman Dunbar (10.7 ppg, 5.3 apg) for penetration and kick-out passes to 3-point threats Venturini (9.8 ppg) and Kendall Knorr (6.8 ppg).
Led by senior Ella Ellis (17.6 ppg), Army is pursuing its first winning season since 1984-85. The Black Knights have 24 players on the roster, and coach Zach Spiker often will rotate more than half of them to facilitate his uptempo tactics.
The job for Navy on Sunday is to control the pace and remain composed, not an easy assignment given the environment.
"We watched the game yesterday so the new kids could see the atmosphere," DeChellis said. "It's an atmosphere that you want to play in, you want to embrace. That was what the Big Ten was like. Every night it was a full arena. To me that was the fun of playing."