Throughout the season, William and Mary had been unflappable away from home, compiling a 7-2 record while calmly and effectively dealing with hostile arenas in the ACC, Big East and CAA. But on Wednesday night, against a conference rival at a raucous Richmond arena that dwarfed the others in both intensity and decibel-level, the Tribe saw its confidence punctured.
Virginia Commonwealth (13-4, 5-3 CAA) dominated the College in nearly all facets of the game and the Tribe (14-4, 6-2 CAA) folded against a seething backdrop of gold and black, as the Rams rolled to an 81-59 victory at the Siegel Center. The home side raced to a quick 15-4 advantage just minutes into the first half and never looked back in gaining revenge for their earlier defeat in Williamsburg.
“We took a whupping,” Head Coach Tony Shaver said. “I thought VCU was outstanding and we weren’t very good tonight. We played their pace; that was the biggest factor in the ballgame.”
It was a pace that saw the Rams effectively use their speed and athleticism to push the ball quickly up the floor on offense while stifling the College with a smothering press defense. The Tribe committed an uncharacteristic 14 turnovers to just 12 assists. VCU frequently forced the College into taking quick shots, and blunted the Tribe’s usually effective Princeton offense by packing the lane.
“We know how they press, but you can’t duplicate that type of speed in a practice environment,” Shaver said.
That press quickly wore down the Tribe offensively, contributing to a night in which the squad was able to convert just 7 of its 27 three-point attempts and 38.7% of its shots overall.
Normally reliable sophomore forward Quinn McDowell was particularly erratic, turning in a 1 for 9 shooting performance, while sophomore sharpshooter JohnMark Ludwick was a futile 1 for 6 from beyond the arc.
“We just didn’t knock down our shots,” senior guard David Schneider said. “And that kind of added to their pressure.”
And when that on-court pressure was combined with the VCU faithful — 7,500 strong of screaming, obscenity-spewing diehards — it turned into a factor that the Tribe could not overcome.
Despite its inability to find consistent scoring, the College found itself firmly in the game at halftime, trailing 31-26. An effusive dunk from senior forward Danny Sumner just minutes into the second period pulled the Tribe to within two points at 33-31, conjuring images of the last meeting between the two teams, in which the College overcame a 15-point second half deficit to pull out a 75-74 victory.
But the VCU pressure, both on the court and off, would not allow a second Tribe comeback.
VCU forward Jamie Skeen supplied a pair of key buckets, and All-CAA center Larry Sanders took over from there, as the Rams quickly built the lead back into double digits.
“It’s always going to be a factor when you play VCU at their place,” Schneider said “They played with a lot of aggression.”
From that point onward, the contest turned into a rout. Over the remaining 15 minutes, the Rams tore apart the Tribe defense, while Sanders threw down several monster dunks to the delight of the rabid crowd, which tormented the Tribe with chants of “overrated”.
Coupled with victories by Old Dominion and Northeastern, as well as an earlier win by George Mason, the loss dropped the College from first to fourth place of a tightly congested CAA, trailing the other three schools by one game.
They’ll have a chance to move back up immediately, as the squad hosts Old Dominion in a marquee matchup Saturday night in Kaplan Arena.
“The one thing I’ll guarantee you is that these guys will respond,” Shaver said. “We’ve had a great locker room all year, we’ll have probably our best practice of the year tomorrow, and we will respond.”