After falling to Old Dominion in the CAA tournament final and missing out on its first NCAA tournament bid, William and Mary (22-10, 12-6 CAA) was forced to wait for Sunday night’s NIT selection show to find out its postseason fate. It took a little while, but the squad and its fans liked the end result.
The College received the fifth seed in the final quarter of the bracket revealed by the ESPNU anchors and will travel to face fourth-seeded North Carolina Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.
A crowded Commonwealth Auditorium erupted in celebration after learning the outcome, the Tribe’s second NIT appearance after losing to Virginia Tech in the first round in 1983.
A victory against the Tar Heels would likely send the Tribe to take on top-seeded Mississippi State (23-11), while UAB (23-8) and South Florida (20-12) are also present in the region.
“It’s a very exciting time for our program and our kids,” Head Coach Tony Shaver said. “It’s only the second time in the history of the school that we have been to a national tournament, so we have all been a part of trying to build this thing in the past six years and its very exciting to see this group, particularly these seniors, getting to play in a national tournament.”
After winning the 2009 NCAA national championship, the Tar Heels fell short of expectations this season, mustering a 5-11 record in the conference and 16-16 overall. Despite UNC’s modest 2010 resume, Tribe players and coaches believe that the sheer history and mystique of the North Carolina program alone makes them a formidable opponent.
“I think, whoever our opponent, is we are going to be prepared and ready,” senior guard Sean McCurdy said. “The fact that our opponent is North Carolina and considering the tradition that they have, it will be something special. It will be a good opportunity for our team to go out there and believe in each other and try to execute our game plan.”
Although playing in the hostile Carmichael Arena will not be an easy task, the College takes solace in the fact that it is 2-0 on the road against ACC opponents this season after knocking off both Wake Forrest and Maryland on their home courts. North Carolina went 1-2 against those same two teams this season.
Despite falling just short of making its first ever NCAA tournament, the College still feels honored to have made the NIT, especially considering the number of high caliber programs that made the cut.
“You look at that tournament from Arizona State to Connecticut to last year’s national champion, North Carolina, it’s a star-studded field,” Shaver said. “So, I was excited for our guys because I really hoped that we would play a big-name school. I thought it would mean more to everybody.”
The College’s visit to Chapel Hill will also serve as a homecoming for two Tribe coaches. Head Coach Tony Shaver, a 1976 North Carolina graduate, played under legendary UNC coach Dean Smith.
Shaver walked on to the team during the 1972 season, and earned a scholarship after his freshman season. The Tar Heels were featured in postseason play in all four years of Shaver’s tenure with the team.
“I do think when I get down there and see that Carolina blue, I will be having a little bit different feelings about the whole thing,” Shaver said. “We are playing in Carmichael Auditorium, the old gym, and that’s where we played when I was in school, so it will bring back a lot of memories, I’m sure. I’ll probably feel right at home. When I played there, I didn’t play much, I sat on the bench a lot, and I’ll be on the bench again tomorrow night.”
Assistant coach Jonathan Holmes also played basketball for North Carolina, helping the Tar Heels advance to the Final Four in 2000.
Despite the challenge posed by North Carolina, the College will attempt to prove itself on a national stage by relying on the strategies that allowed them to have one of the most successful seasons in school history.
“Coach Shaver and his staff have just done a great job of getting everybody to believe in the system, and believe in each other,” McCurdy said. “This team in particular has been the closest team I have ever been a part of. We really trust each other, we really believe in each other, and we are just going to go out there on Tuesday night and just give it our best.”