Returning home in the midst of a momentum-sapping, three-game losing streak, the College knew that it badly needed a win to remain in the picture at the top of a highly competitive CAA. And 39 minutes into a crucial, back-and-forth game with Drexel (12-11, 7-4 CAA), the College was not going to give that win away.
William and Mary (15-6, 7-4 CAA) sank four free throws in the final minute to ice an intense, foul-ridden contest, prevailing with a 54-51 win in a game that contained crucial applications for both squads. Drexel guard Shannon Givens’ attempt at a tying three-pointer at the final buzzer clanked harmlessly off the front iron.
“It was a great win,” Head Coach Tony Shaver said. “Today, we needed a good performance as much as a win.”
Despite poor shooting totals and 10 turnovers, the College got both. Facing one of the CAA’s toughest defenses and hottest teams, the Tribe overcame a 12 of 46 night from the field by sinking 28 of 37 free throws. On an afternoon in which the whistle blew early and often, the College repeatedly challenged the Drexel press and was rewarded by getting to the line.
“We started with a lot of intensity,” senior guard David Schneider said. “Coach took us aside before the game started and told us to be the aggressor. Especially when shots weren’t falling, I thought we did a great job of getting to the line.”
After averaging 30 three-point attempts a game over its last three losses, the Tribe came out of the locker room determined to work the ball inside. The squad’s 15 three-point tries marked their second-fewest total of the season – and they made only two of those shots.
“We didn’t get a lot of good looks today, a lot because of their defense,” Schneider said. “They did a great job of taking away the three, especially.”
But the College made up for that void with a furious defensive effort that belied the importance of the contest. The Tribe got 18 points off of 15 Drexel turnovers, while holding the Dragons to 38.8 percent shooting overall. Drexel also shot a futile 9-22 from the free throw line for the contest.
That, combined with the Tribe’s marksmanship at their own stripe, combined to put an end to the College’s midseason slump and supply the squad with a crucial win entering the stretch run.
The victory brought the Tribe back into the top-four of the conference – necessary for a vital first-round bye in the CAA tournament – and left them holding an important tiebreaker over Drexel and VCU.
“The biggest thing is keep winning, get a nice little streak going,” Schneider said.
Next up will be second-place Old Dominion, which defeated the College 58-55 Jan. 23 in Williamsburg.
Due to a weekend snowstorm that caused the contest against Drexel to be played Sunday instead of Saturday, the Tribe will now have one fewer day of rest before that matchup. They’ll also have less time to prepare.
“We have a short turnaround for Old Dominion,” Shaver said. “We’ve got to prepare to handle their zone. They’re number one in the country defensively. It’s such a big lineup, so we’ve got to be better against their zone than we were last time and a little bit better defensively inside.”