Navy (14-5, 5-1 Patriot League) moved into a tie for first place in the conference with a dominating 87-61 victory over Lafayette on Saturday evening. The win was the Mids fifth straight conference victory after losing the league opener at Bucknell and that five-game win streak is the best for Navy in league play since 2008. The 5-1 Patriot League start is also the best for the team in league play for 15 years. Even more encouragingly the win was the Mids best all-around performance of the year with everyone on the court contributing on both offense and defense.
The Mids will look to continue that momentum with a trip to Lehigh (5-12, 3-3 PL) on Wednesday night. Here is a look forward at the three keys to the game.
1. Make the passes count
Against Lafayette, the Mids were dominant in most phases of the game, but one area that particularly stood out was the number of assists that Navy dished out. The team dished out an astonishing 26 assists on its 37 field goals that means that over 70-percent of the Mids baskets were assisted. This Navy team has been solid all year when it comes to assist numbers, but the Lafayette game was by far the high point in the season. The astronomical number shows that the Navy players are totally comfortable with their spacing and the ability of the teammates to take, and make shots. By keeping the ball moving at this rate, Navy will make it very hard for Lehigh to defend their jump shooters from behind the arc.
2. Defense wins championships
The Mids scoring outburst against Lafayette was good to see, but even amidst shot after shot falling through the hoop, it was good to see Navy not step out of the game plan that has been working all year long. This team wins games because it is active and aggressive on defense, a fact that shows up both watching the game and on the stat sheet. Navy ranks first in the Patriot League in scoring defense (61.6 ppg), field goal percentage defense (.405) and a number of other key defensive categories. One stat that jumps off of the page is that Navy is fifth in the entire NCAA in total blocks (55) and ninth in blocked shots per game (2.9). The ability of Navy players to alter shots, particularly in the paint, is making it very hard for teams to consistently score on the Mids.
3. Stop Tim Kempton
As with any game against Lehigh the first item the defense must focus on is stopping junior big man Tim Kempton Jr. Kempton, the son of a former NBA player, was the Patriot League player of the year in 2015 and even found his way to being an AP honorable mention All-American. Kempton is an immovable force in the paint and is third in the Patriot League in scoring (17.8) and second in rebounding (8.1). Navy will have to find a way of disrupting the entry pass to Kempton, denying him the ball so that he cannot challenge the flow of the game like the Mountain Hawks coaching staff would want. If Navy is able to keep Kempton quiet, and below his season totals, then the Mids will have a much greater shot of starting league play 6-1 for the first time since 2001.