Navy basketball coach Ed DeChellis gathered his team Wednesday night before its game against Penn. DeChellis, who was the head coach for eight seasons at Penn State, asked his players to raise their hands if they had ever won a game at the Palestra. No one budged.
DeChellis rephrased his question, asking his team if anyone had even played at Penn's historic gym. Not a hand was raised.
"So I told them we had a chance to do something that we had not done before," the coach said after his team knocked off Penn, 65-59. "The kids bought into that. They wanted to come in here and do well."
The crop of Midshipmen won their debut at the Palestra by frustrating Penn (4-3) with constant defensive switches. Navy (7-2) used a handful of different zone schemes, causing Penn to play without much of a rhythm. Penn committed 18 turnovers, 11 of which came in the first half. Tim Abruzzo and Shawn Anderson scored 11 points apiece for Navy.
The Quakers trailed by 11 points with eight minutes left, as their three-point shooting helped dig Penn into a hole. The Quakers shot just 5 for 16 from three-point range.
By the time Penn found its rhythm, it was too late. Jake Silpe hit a jumper to cut Navy's lead to four points. Silpe finished with six points and three assists. Less than a minute later, sophomore guard Antonio Woods slowed his dribble on a fastbreak and lofted a beautiful alley-oop pass to Matt Howard. The crowd came unglued when Howard's dunk was replayed on the video board.
Woods finished with a team-high 16 points, 13 of which came in the second half. He went to the foul line with 26 seconds left and his team down two. Woods missed the front-end of a one-and-one, but the rebound was scooped up by Howard. Woods had another chance. His jumper from the top of the key clanged off the rim as Penn's comeback fell short.
"His foul shooting is just in one of those funks that he'll get out of," Penn coach Steve Donahue said of Woods. "But in terms of being a player that you can count on so young in his college career, I think we have the makings of a great Ivy League player."