ANNAPOLIS, Md. --J.J. Avila scored 24 points and Navy's defense held American to a season-low 35.8 percent shooting from the field in running past the Eagles, 72-53, on a snowy Wednesday evening in Annapolis. The win was Navy's second in a row and improves the Mids to 7-15 overall and 2-4 in the Patriot League.
American, the preseason Patriot League favorite, drops to 14-7 overall and 4-2 in the Patriot League.
The game was delayed 95 minutes by the powerful winter storm that blasted the Mid-Atlantic on Wednesday. American had a difficult time getting out of Washington, D.C., and arrived at the arena around 7:30 pm after taking about four hours to reach Annapolis.
"I'm sure that made a little bit of difference and its unfortunate that any team has to go through that," said Navy head coach Billy Lange. "I don't want to take anything away from our guys. We have been playing as a team and playing scrappy and playing Navy Basketball. The difference is that the last couple of games is that we have made shots. We haven't done anything different. The guys are getting more comfortable and this team was built to get better as the season has gone on. We were on the rough end of some games, but tonight we were able to get a nice victory over a very good team."
Much like the Army game, Navy took control early in the second half. Leading 35-29 at the break, the Midshipmen opened the second half on a 14-4 run fueled by 10 points by J.J. Avila (Fr. / McAllen, Texas) and four by Isaiah Roberts (Fr. / Pennsauken, N.J.), who capped off the run with an emphatic dunk to give the Mids a 49-33 advantage with 16:41 left.
American would get no closer the rest of the way and Navy would lead by as many as 26 points at 67-41 with 6:54 to play. American went on an 8-0 run to cut the Navy cushion to 67-49 with 3:21 left, but it was too little too late for the Eagles, as Navy cruised down the stretch for a 72-53 decision.
The 19-point victory was the largest for Navy over American since Jan. 17, 1987, a 96-60 Navy victory. In addition, the 19-point win was the largest win for the Midshipmen since Feb. 14, 2009, against Lafayette (90-67) and the 53 points allowed against American were the fewest the Navy defense has held an opponent since Lafayette scored just 44 points on Jan. 13, 2007.
"That was our best defensive effort in the seven years since we have been here. We have been playing great defense, but its been overshadowed," said Lange. "It seemed our guys had fun out there playing defense. They looked like they were having a blast, and that is what you want out of a group."
Navy snapped a five-game win streak in the series and it was just the fourth win in 22 tries against American during the Patriot League era (AU joined in 2001-02).
Navy won back-to-back games for the second time this year and has done so by shooting 53-of-105 (.505) from the field and 22-of-53 (.415) from three-point range over the last two games.
"We hope to get on a roll, but we are going to have another tough game on Saturday in a tough venue for us. The most important thing is that the focus is on Navy Basketball," said Lange. "All those tough endings we have had have made us a much more-resilient team and we now have more faith in each other because of it."
Meanwhile, Avila had another spectacular night for the Midshipmen. Avila led the Mids with 24 points and five rebounds and added three assists against no turnovers with three steals in just 30 minutes, making 8-of-11 shots from the field and 6-of-8 three-point tries. Avila moved into a tie for ninth on the Navy freshman scoring list and recorded his fourth 20-point game of the year and his 13th double-figure scoring game.
"The kid is just a good basketball player. He is getting a little bit more swagger. He has made some impressive adjustments after teams have really started to become aware of him," said Lange. "As a freshman, he is getting his toughness tested and guys are going to try and get after him and get him frustrated. He hasn't cracked one bit and has responded very positively."
Navy finished the game 25-of-52 (.481) from the field, including 14-of-26 (.538) in the second half. Navy was 11-of-27 (.407) from three-point range and 11-of-13 (.846) from the free throw line. Navy had 15 assists against nine turnovers and were outrebounded, 36-28.
Jordan Sugars (Jr. / Winchester, Va.) recorded his 17th straight double-figure scoring game with 15 points while adding four steals and three rebounds. Roberts added seven points and four rebounds and O.J. Avworo (Sr. / Houston, Texas) scored five points with seven assists. Over the last two games, Avworo has 20 points and 16 assists against just four turnovers.
Navy's freshmen class scored 41 of Navy's 72 points.
"Everything came in the flow. The past two games we have been taking our time getting open shots and working the shot clock," said Avila, who has scored in double figures in five of the six Patriot League games. "We have done a really good job keeping it simple and the results have been positive."
American, meanwhile, was 19-of-53 (.358) from the field and just 4-of-22 (.182) from three-point range. The Eagles were 0-of-13 from long distance in the second half. American did shoot 11-of-12 (.917) from the free throw line, but was guilty of 15 turnovers.
Vlad Moldoveanu was the only Eagle in double figures with 14 points and 12 rebounds. Moldoveanu, however, went just 4-of-11 from the field and 1-of-6 from three-point range. The Eagles' second-leading scorer, Stephen Lumpkins (13 ppg), had just six points, while their third-leading scorer, Troy Brewer (11 ppg), had just four points.
Lumpkins averaged 21.3 ppg and 10.7 rpg in three games against Navy last year.
The Midshipmen return to the road to close out the first half of league play on Saturday at Colgate, beginning at 2:00 pm. The game will be broadcast on WNAV (1430 AM), beginning at 1:45 pm with the Navy Basketball pregame show.