Two weeks ago, William and Mary was reeling from a 19-point road loss at Old Dominion, wondering where its early season magic had gone after dropping four of five games. Sitting a distant sixth-place in the CAA, the squad’s once bright postseason future suddenly seemed dim.
What a difference two weeks makes.
Tuesday night, the Tribe (19-7, 11-5 CAA) notched its fourth-straight win by overcoming an 11-point halftime deficit to knock off conference front-runner George Mason 63-60. The victory vaulted the College into a tie for third place with just two conference games remaining before the CAA tournament.
Senior guard David Schneider scored 15 points, including two crucial free throws in the final seconds, to counter the early George Mason advantage. With a one-point Tribe lead and just seconds to go, senior forward Danny Sumner blocked Cam Long’s game-winning attempt in the lane to secure the win.
“It was just a great win,” Head Coach Tony Shaver said. “We were disappointed, quite honestly, with how we played in the first half of the ballgame. We challenged the guys a little bit at halftime, and they responded. They came out and played a great second half. They just weren’t going to be denied.”
The College became the first visiting CAA squad to emerge victorious from the Patriot Center in nearly two years.
At the conclusion of the first half, the Tribe’s prospects did not look bright. Defensively, the College came out sluggish against George Mason’s deep, athletic lineup. Kevin Foster, picking up the slack for a suspended Mike Morrisson, scored 12 points for the Patriots in the first half, and Andre Cornelius frustrated the Tribe by sinking three shots from beyond the arc.
To make matters worse, the Tribe’s shots weren’t falling, as the team converted just 35 percent of its attempts in the opening period.
But after halftime, the College employed a bit of its trademark resiliency and scored the first five points of the second half to pull back into the game.
“It was pretty much a story of two halves,” sophomore guard Quinn McDowell said. “We played pretty badly in the first half and came back a lot better in the second half with a lot more effort and a lot better defense. We played better defense overall, and transitions were a big thing. We got killed in the first half on transitions, and that is really George Mason’s strength, so we tried to limit that.”
After yielding 36 points in the first half, a more physical Tribe squad held the Patriots to just 24 points in the second. The College silenced George Mason’s sharpshooters, holding the Patriots without a three-pointer the rest of the way.
“Once we did what we needed to do on the defensive end, I thought we started to get some good offensive looks, and things just kind of went our way in the second half,” Sumner said.
The Tribe’s offensive numbers improved significantly, as the College converted 50 percent of its shots from the field, and 45 percent from beyond the arc. Schneider was an offensive force with 11 of his 15 points coming in the final period.
The win proved especially gratifying for Shaver, who believes that the Tribe has fully recovered from its midseason slump.
“It’s satisfying,” Shaver said. “A lot of people gave up on these guys, and we didn’t. The most important thing for us right now is to keep enjoying what we are doing, taking it one day at a time, not talking about the NCAA [tournament]. We have to allow this team to keep enjoying what it is doing without putting extra pressure on them right now.”
Tuesday’s victory over George Mason will ease some postseason pressure. The Tribe currently sits in third place in the conference, which would guarantee them a first-round bye in the upcoming CAA tournament. While Northeastern, George Mason, Old Dominion and Virginia Commonwealth must finish out their respective seasons with several tough games, the College will close out its CAA regular season play against conference lightweights Towson and UNC-Wilmington.
Next up will be Friday’s nationally televised ESPN BracketBuster contest against Iona.
“It’s a long season and you try to never get too up or too down,” McDowell said. “I think we need to stay on an even keel and try to take this momentum forward and finish the year out strong and hope that we can maybe get one of the top four spots and get ready for the tournament.”
For a box score, click here.