TSX: Army faces challenges in league play

Coming into league play, a common criticism of the Black Knights has been their favorable scheduling. Was their fine first half the product of being one of the league's best teams or smoke and mirrors as the Army defense feasted on cupcakes?

   Now knee-deep in conference play, Army is dealing with some chinks in its armor. In each of Army's losses this season, the Cadets have allowed more than 60 points.
   But Army has only one defeat when allowing the opposing team to score more than 60.
   Fortunately for former Cornell assistant turned Army head coach Zach Spiker, his team has adopted a grind-it-out mentality and pressure defense that bodes well for the low-scoring squad.
   Despite the play of guards Cleveland Richard, averaging 12.9 points per game, and Julian Simmons, who is at 13.0, the Black Knights lack a consistent scoring attack.
   Army is seventh in the conference, scoring 61.8 points per game, and while the Cadets are adept at forcing other teams into shooting slumps, they are prone to slumps of their own.
   The Black Knights struggled offensively against Lehigh on Jan. 17, shooting a season-low 33.3 percent (21-of-63) from the floor and 25.0 percent (6-of-24) from three-point range.
   Army also turned the ball over 15 times, leading to 18 Lehigh points in a 73-55 victory for the Mountain Hawks.
   Over the last few seasons, Army has made strides in the Patriot League, twice earning victories in the league tournament. With American taking a step back, the Black Knights look poised to take over the top perch in the league. If they are to make a run for thee title, their offense must improve quickly.

   --The Black Knights had high hopes for Julian Simmons coming into the season and he leads the team at 13.0 points per game.
   --Army has a consistent pressure defense that has stifled conference opponents. Their 59.8 points per game allowed is best among Patriot League teams.
   ON THE SPOT: Army's gritty defense can certainly shut other teams down, but the Cadets have to start making some clutch baskets. Against Portland on Jan. 2, they shot only 35 percent from the field and never recovered from a early 18-0 deficit. On Jan. 9, they were held to five points in the extra period of an overtime loss to Colgate. Coach Zach Spiker must find a way to implement some consistent scoring, perhaps being more physical underneath, to draw free throws in the wake of scoring slumps.
   QUOTE TO NOTE: "I would not question the guys' effort today. Maybe the execution. I think we started out well and then maybe you don't hit a couple shots that normally go or a couple guys don't get going like they normally do and maybe everyone starts to tense up a bit." -- Zach Spiker, to the Times-Herald Record, on his team's worst loss of the season and first home loss, 73-55 to Lehigh on Jan. 17.

   SEASON RECAP: The Black Knights have allowed more than 70 points only four times this season. With Julian Simmons and Cleveland Richard having emerged as two of the most dynamic players in the conference, Army cruised through non-conference play, but have been shaky in conference games. Army is a very inconsistent shooting team and will need their stout defense to win games for them.
   PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- G Cleveland Richard, G Marcus Nelson, G Josh Miller, G/F Julian Simmons, F Chris Walker. Key Subs -- F Jeremy Hence.
   Colgate 68, Army 58 (OT)
   Army 67, Holy Cross 64
   Lehigh 73, Army 55
   vs. American, Wednesday, Jan. 20
   at Navy, Saturday, Jan. 23
   at Lafayette, Wednesday, Jan. 27
   at Bucknell, Saturday, Jan. 30
   vs. Colgate, Sunday, Feb. 7
   IN FOCUS: Lafayette will be a real test for Army, bringing its league-best offense. There's no way the Black Knights have the firepower to keep up, so look for them to try to slow the game down and be deliberate with the ball to avoid costly turnovers.
   --In September, Army added freshmen Ella Ellis to the roster. Ellis, a 6-6 forward from Houston, Texas, played at the U.S. Military Academy Prep School last season. He was named the USMAPS most improved player and was listed among the top 100 players in the state by RCSSports.com and TexasHoops.com. He is averaging 2.9 points and 1.6 rebounds per game off the bench.
   --Tyrell Thompson has been slow to come back from an ankle injury that sidelined through much of the first half of the season. He registered nine minutes against Lehigh on Jan. 17, collecting four points and two rebounds.
   --Marcus Nelson has been nursing an ankle injury that has kept him out two games as of Jan. 18.

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