Heading into the 2008-2009 season, expectations for the College of William and Mary’s men’s basketball program were higher than in years past for Head Coach Tony Shaver and his players.
Fresh off of an unprecedented run to the CAA Tournament championship game, the Tribe entered the season with a new mantra — “unfinished business” — and a goal to win the league title.
Now, nine games into conference play, the Tribe finds itself in last place in the conference with a 1-8 record and faces a steep climb back into conference contenders’ talk.
The College has shown flashes of its potential during CAA play, hanging with teams like Virginia Commonwealth University, Old Dominion University, James Madison University and George Mason University for long stretches before its defense could no longer cover for its offensive ineptitude.
“It’s been a season of that — where we can’t quite get over that hump,” Shaver said. “For the most part, I think we’ve really defended well. Offensively, quite honestly, we just really struggle.”
In its first nine CAA games the College averaged 54.9 points per game — last in the conference. The Tribe’s field goal percentage (36.6 percent) is the league’s worst, and its three-point shooting percentageis not much better at 27.7 percent — 10th-best in the CAA.
“We’ve gone through stretches where our shot selection hasn’t been good. That’s an executional thing,” Shaver said. “I think in almost every case it’s guys wanting to win so badly they’re trying to pull the team up by the boot straps, and that’s not a healthy thing. It’s important to get shots out of the offense.”
In the College’s most recent loss at Drexel University Saturday, the Tribe got plenty of shots within the offense, but the shots did not fall as the College sputtered its way to a 24-point second half on 10 of 31 shooting.
“Our inability to score the ball has just put a lot of pressure on our team,” Shaver said. “Shots — that you think should go in and will go in — don’t. Then you tighten up a bit as a ball club. Our inability to score the ball has just been a major issue for us this year.
“Some of it is turnover-oriented, but some of it is just shots not going in the hole for us — good players missing shots. That will solve itself at some point. Confidence becomes an issue when it happens on a consistent basis.”
With five consecutive losses and only one win since Dec. 31, the Tribe’s confidence has to be hurting. Shaver pointed to the College’s home triple-overtime loss to the United States Naval Academy, a double-overtime loss at Liberty University and a last-second loss to Loyola of Chicago as additional confidence-draining games.
“Confidence is such a vital thing in sports and such a fleeting thing in sports,” Shaver said. “You go back to early season: a triple-overtime loss, a double-overtime loss and a last-second loss. Those things do drain a little bit of your confidence.
“When you’re not winning, you have to continue to believe in what you’re doing. And it’s an everyday battle for all of us whether you’re an athlete or not. You’ve got to continue to believe in what you’re doing.”
Prior to the Drexel game, Shaver said a win would help get the Tribe’s confidence back to his expected level. After the loss, Shaver said he felt his team was closer to being good than it had been a month.
Tomorrow night’s home game against a down Towson University squad, which has dropped six straight conference games, gives the Tribe a great chance to regain its confidence.
“We have to find a way to continue to play well and get that breakthrough win,” Shaver said.
If that win does not come tomorrow against the Tigers, the College will sink deeper into the CAA cellar and may not find its way out.