In the College’s 104 years of varsity basketball competition, few decades have ended quite like this. A span which saw William and Mary reach its first CAA tournament final in 2007 culminated with the squad in a position it has not reached in at least 30 years — owners of a 9-2 record, in first place of a tough CAA and receiving votes in the national polls.
Wednesday night’s 83-77 dismantling of Maryland (8-4) proved a fitting ending to the 2000’s, much as it signaled the beginning of something possibly far greater. For the second time this season, the College comfortably downed an ACC opponent on the road, and for the fourth time defeated a program that had qualified for the NCAA tournament a year ago. It took all of 40 minutes of play for the Tribe to announce that its nine-game winning streak is anything but a fluke. In short, the win proved that Head Coach Tony Shaver has finally fielded a squad that is as good as any in the CAA and can legitimately compete for the school’s first-ever NCAA bid.
“It’s a good feeling,” Shaver said. “It gives me a lot of confidence about [the players] I’m bringing in to the gym right now. I couldn’t be happier, couldn’t be prouder, couldn’t be more impressed with what our guys are doing.”
Much like its victory at Wake Forest roughly one month before, the contest saw the Tribe open a margin late in the first half that would not truly be tested. A layup from junior center Marcus Kitts with 4:44 remaining in the opening period gave the College a 26-25 lead, and two more baskets followed to open up a six-point advantage. Maryland would never pull within that margin.
“Every time Maryland made a run or got things going, our guys responded,” Shaver said. “They were just an extremely tough and composed bunch today.”
Leading that charge was sophomore forward Quinn McDowell, who poured in clutch bucket after clutch bucket, repeatedly stamping out any momentum the frustrated Terps hoped to build. McDowell finished with a game-high 28 points on 8 of 14 shooting, while adding four rebounds. He was joined by his teammate, senior forward Danny Sumner, who got the College going with three early treys from the corner.
“They came out very aggressive, trying to press us, and I got some wide open looks,” Sumner said. “After I hit the first one, I got it going. The team fed off that.”
While Sumner and McDowell built the early advantage, it was the Tribe’s depth and balance that maintained it. The squad saw six players tally at least five points, while Shaver employed a rotation that went 10-deep.
“Whenever people start to key on one or two guys, we have other guys who are able to step up,” McDowell said. “That’s one of the reasons why we’re so good.”
That depth also allowed the College to maintain withering defensive pressure, often frustrating the larger Maryland players. Mercurial guard Greivis Vasquez posted 26 points, but seven of those came in the final two minutes with the Terrapins furiously trying to eliminate a double-digit deficit. Senior guard David Schneider grabbed two steals and harried the Maryland guards all evening, while helping to force the Terrapins into 4 for 25 shooting from three point range.
Kitts racked up five rebounds and two blocks inside, while fellow center, sophomore Steven Hess, added two more boards.
“They battled hard inside,” Shaver said. “They’re a little smaller than [the Maryland forwards], but they competed so hard.”
With the Tribe big men holding strong inside, and Maryland unable to connect from beyond the arc, the College was able to expand upon a nine-point halftime lead, going up by as much as 16 points with 4:58 to play. From there, all that was left was to withstand one last Terrapin rally and celebrate for the second time on an ACC court.
“This is very big, it’s good to knock off another ACC team,” Sumner said. “In the past we really haven’t done well in the non-conference [schedule], and now we have to carry it over [to CAA play]. There are a lot of great teams in the CAA as well, and you can’t slip up against any team. You’ve got to keep it going and take each game one at a time.”
Wednesday’s contest kicked off a stretch which will see the College play four games in eight days, with road matchups against Hofstra and Delaware sandwiching a home date with UNC-Wilmington. The quick turnaround gives the Tribe no time to savor its accomplishment, or reflect on the latest addition to its growing resumé.
“I’m tired right now, but looking forward to it,” Shaver said. “This is probably the most challenging part of our season now coming up. We’ve been through a tough stretch, but to play three of our next four conference games on the road is a very important part of the season for us. It’s tough to win on the road in this league, but our guys will believe they can do it right now. We’ve just got to have a great practice tomorrow, and get ready to play Hofstra on Saturday.”