ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- The Navy men's basketball team held Lafayette College to just 35.6 percent shooting from the field and held on in the second half for a 57-52 victory in front of 3,117 fans at Alumni Hall on Saturday night.
The win improves Navy's record to 9-17 overall and 4-6 in the Patriot League, while Lafayette fell to 10-15 overall and 5-5 in the league standings. Navy moved into a fifth-place tie in the league standings with Holy Cross.
Navy used its 10th different starting lineup for the year, going to a more defensive-minded approach at the start of the game, inserting senior Romeo Garcia (Cypress, Texas) and freshman James Loupos (Skillman, N.J.) into the starting lineup. The strategy worked, as the Midshipmen jumped out to a 36-21 halftime lead while forcing 10 Lafayette turnovers in the opening 20 minutes.
The 21 points were the fewest Navy had allowed in a half all year, as were the 52 points overall. It was the fewest points Navy's defense had given up since holding Lafayette to 44 points on Jan. 13, 2007, over four years ago.
"I thought after our last couple of games we got away from the only way this team was going to be a strong squad at the end of the year and that is to be a terrific defensive team," said Navy head coach Billy Lange. "We know what our weaknesses are, but we also know where we can be really good. This team might look different than the last few years, but we are very focused on being a great defensive team."
Meanwhile, Navy made enough offensive plays down the stretch, despite connecting on just 4-of-17 (.235) field goal attempts in the second half with 10 turnovers. Navy led 52-50 late when Jordan Sugars (Jr. / Winchester, Va.) rebounded a Navy miss and scored on a putback to give the Mids a 54-50 advantage. O.J. Avworo (Sr. / Houston, Texas) then made 3-of-4 free throws in the final 20 seconds for the final margin.
"That was a little rough in the second half. We changed a bit of our offensive attack and we need to work on some things," said Lange. "Our focus right now is totally on being the best defensive team we can be. We are much closer to being a great defensive team than a great offensive team, and I think that is how this team is going to win down the stretch. I am still confident the offense will come around."
Navy also limited Lafayette to just 2-of-22 (.091) from three-point range. The Leopards entered the contest making 36.5 percent of their three-point attempts, making 8.2 three-pointers per game.
The win snapped a two-game losing skid and allowed Navy to stay in the race for a Patriot League home playoff game, given to the top four seeds.
"Every game we play is a big game. Every time a Navy basketball player puts on a Navy jersey, we have to step on that court with pride," said Lange. "When we put that jersey on, it should be a big deal. That is where our focus was in the last 48 hours."
Navy led virtually the entire first half, holding a 23-19 lead with 5:33 to play when Sugars put the Navy offense on his back. Over the final 3:49 of the half, Sugars scored all 13 of Navy's points during a 13-2 Navy run, sparked by a 28-foot three-pointer at the halftime buzzer to give Navy a 36-21 advantage at the break.
"They went to a zone and things just opened up with good ball movement," said Sugars. "I was just looking to be aggressive and get my shot. This win was big in the sense we needed it and that we showed we can do it the right way, by playing strong defense. That is what this team is going to have to do down the stretch."
Navy would still lead by 10 at 49-39 with 6:37 to play, but made just one more field goal down the stretch as Lafayette would cut the lead to two at 52-50 with an 11-3 run.
For the contest, Navy shot 17-of-45 (.378) from the field, 5-of-21 (.238) from three-point range and 18-of-23 (.783) from the free throw line. Navy was guilty of 14 turnovers and outrebounded Lafayette for the second time this year, 34-32.
Navy went 0-of-8 from three-point range in the second half.
Lafayette was guilty of 15 turnovers and made 18-of-27 (.667) from the free throw line.
Navy won for the first time this year against a Division I opponent when shooting under 40.0 percent, improving to 1-11 this year.
Sugars finished with 17 points on 5-of-10 field goal attempts and 3-of-7 three-point tries with a season-high nine rebounds for his 20th double-figure scoring game of the season. J.J. Avila (McAllen, Texas) had a strong all-around floor game with 11 points, four rebounds, four assists and four steals. Avila became the fifth freshman in school history to score 300 points in his plebe season and has now scored in double-figures 15 times this season.
Garcia, Avworo and Isaiah Roberts (Fr. / Pennsauken, N.J.) all scored six points for Navy.
Jared Mintz led Lafayette with 17 points, while Rob Delaney added 10 points.
Navy will travel to Holy Cross on Wednesday night for a 7:00 pm tip-off in Worcester, Mass. The game will be aired by WNAV (1430 AM) radio with Pete Medhurst on the call.