Blocks and Free Throws Steal the Show as GW Sinks Navy in OT

Photo credit: Greg Fiume

By Cameron Mays (@cameronemays)

After two weeks away from home, men’s basketball’s first home game of December in front of a packed “Miracle on 22nd St” night crowd went a little differently than most fans had hoped, as a tough Navy squad pushed GW to the brink in a 79-77 OT victory for the Revolutionaries (7-2). Besides the victory, the storyline of the night was graduate center Babatunde “Stretch” Akingbola, who set a new school record for most blocks in a game with 11.

Coming into the game several days removed from a bad loss at South Carolina that avenged GW’s walloping of the Gamecocks last season, the Revs were looking to get back to the basics against a Midshipmen (2-7) team that has not found much success so far. However, with Navy having gained momentum off back-to-back wins for their first two of the season, the Revs could not overlook this game.

GW started the game slow offensively, but was doing well defensively to get stops and limit Navy’s looks from the field. The defense on attempted baseline drives was especially strong, as defenders moved their feet well and forced Navy to kick the ball back out. The Revs held Navy to a 26% clip from the field and 25% from three in the first half.

Stretch started the game looking much more comfortable out on the perimeter than he has in past games. He was staying with defenders much better, and even when he was beat by a quicker guard, his recoveries were almost always on point. He finished the first half with four blocks and no fouls, as well as a nice alley oop off a lob from redshirt freshman wing Garrett Johnson to give him two of his four points on the night.

“Guarding this guy [senior guard James Bishop IV],” Stretch said of his work in practice to improve his quickness outside of the paint. “I guarded him during the summer every time, and when you guard this guy you’ve got to move your feet. So that helps a lot, and I feel like I can guard one through five.”

Navy played almost the entire game pressing and picking up hard from halfcourt, then dropping into multiple different defensive schemes in order to stifle the Revs’ chances. Sophomore guard Austin Benigni played tight defense on GW’s primary ball handler and slowed down the pace of the offense immensely. 

“Navy makes it really hard to execute anything offensively because of the press, back to zone, back to switching matchup,” GW head coach Chris Caputo said. “[They went] zone a couple passes and then back to man. They’re really trying to muck it up, it makes it difficult.”

The players also felt the impact of Navy’s defense when trying to execute a consistent offense. Despite playing quickly for most of the year, the Midshipmen did well to slow down Bishop and other ball handlers in the half.

“They’re a very physical team, they’re really good on defense, they’re really sound. They make it tough on you,” Bishop said. “That press definitely slowed us down, made it a little tougher to get into sets. So at halftime coach was preaching to us to try and beat the press as quick as we can so we can get the offense started.”

Not only did the press affect GW, but the Midshipmen all had high motors and played extremely aggressively. GW had trouble getting rebounds, and also was sloppy with the ball under pressure, giving up 12 turnovers in the half. The poise and energy we have been used to seeing from GW so far this year was lacking.

“They’re amongst the best teams in the country at turning people over, they’re amongst the best teams in the country at rebounding the ball,” Caputo said. “So it’s a really good win for us, we continue to find ways to win in overtime, but my expectation is nothing is easy.”

Despite a solid shooting half where GW hit 50% from the field and 42% from three, the Revs only went into halftime with a five point lead. Part of this can be attributed to free throws, where Navy shot 10-for-11 from the line in the first half while GW went 4-for-5. The Revs squad defended fairly well in the half, but had some inopportune calls go against them which, combined with the whistle happy refs, contributed to Navy staying in the game even when GW had an 11 point lead at several points.

“We’re top five in the country at not fouling, and we put them on the line early and often tonight,” Caputo said. “I think they’re a hard team to defend because of the way they drive the ball.” 

To start the second half GW continued to play solid defense, holding Navy scoreless until the 16:37 mark and building the lead back to 11 during that time. After a slow first half, redshirt sophomore guard Maximus Edwards knocked down two jumpers and Bishop hit a three. Stretch picked up right where he left off in the second half, swatting three more shots in less than a minute, and getting his eighth block of the night with 17:53 to play.

However, Navy got back into the game with a barrage of scoring from senior guard Austin Inge, sophomore forward Donovan Draper, and freshman guard Jack Medalie, and were down four with 13:20 left to play. 

After a quick run GW pushed the lead to a game high 12 after an Edwards three at the 9:39 mark. It looked like the Revs might put Navy away, but a combination of Navy free throw makes and GW free throw misses kept them in the game. Again, GW played with less enthusiasm and passion than normal, and seemed content to take some bad shots to keep Navy competitive.

Part of the lack of on-court energy can be contributed to the out of character free throw shooting. It cannot be overstated how many free throws GW missed. On the night the team went 18-for-33, good for 54.5%. In the second half alone GW shot just 8-for-18 from the line. As good as a free throw shooting team as GW usually is, sometimes things just do not go right, and this is as bad as it gets. 

“Yeah, I don’t really know,” Caputo said about the source of the free throw issues. “We missed five in a row […] but I’m not going to overreact to a couple missed free throws.”

Despite the lack of good offense, GW maintained a two possession lead until the 2:45 mark when a Draper layup made the score 60-58. With another layup, Draper then gave Navy a 65-64 lead with 34 seconds remaining. Freshman guard Darren Buchanen Jr., who struggled the most at the line on the night, going only 6-for-14, hit one free throw to tie the game at 65. 

After Stretch tied the GW record with his 10th block of the night on an outstanding play with 10 seconds left, freshman guard Jacoi Hutchinson had a breakaway chance with five seconds but turned it over after pressure from a Navy defender. The game went to OT.

Overtime started just as back and forth as the end of regulation, and Navy led 72-71 until it turned into the James Bishop show just as the team needed it the most. After a quiet game, JB took over the last minute of the game, scoring GW’s last eight points and sealing the win. 

“I think it’s just the experience piece,” Bishop said about what keeps him comfortable and effective in high pressure situations. “You’ve been here before, so you kind of know what to do, what not to do. Now it’s more just talking to the younger guys and trying to help them along, because this is their first time in these situations.”

Among the JB madness, Stretch also got his record setting 11th block of the night. He is now second in the country in blocks per game, averaging 3.7.

“I’m blessed with this wingspan, so start from there,” Stretch said. “And just the attention to details, before the game we get with the coach and he tells us ‘this guy, he pump fakes, he’s a roller,’ I know what to do because I go through the plays and everything. So from there I learn how they play, and I go from there”

GW survived on a hectic play that resulted in a missed Inge jumper with time expiring. 

Despite the ugliness of the game, a win is a win at the end of the day. The rotation looked solid for large parts, and if the free throws were made at a rate consistent with the rest of the season, GW would have won easily. Even when it is unwanted, high pressure situations and overtime games are always a good learning experience for a young team, so even though GW’s analytical rankings will take a hit after tonight, these are the types of games that make teams winners come March.
GW will look for their eighth win of the season against Coppin St. on Saturday at 6:00 PM, which will be covered on WRGW as always, and streamed on ESPN+.

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