For about seven minutes in the second half, the passing was crisp, the layups graceful and the fast breaks lightning.
William and Mary men’s basketball was keeping pace with a Richmond squad that features last season’s Atlantic-10 player of the year, a potential NBA prospect and 14 returning players who made it to March.
For about seven minutes in the second half, the Tribe looked like a team that could make a run at the NCAA tournament.
Junior guard Kendrix Brown leaped into the air to intercept a Richmond pass, charged toward the basket in transition and flipped an off-look pass to sophomore forward Kyle Gaillard. Gaillard caught the ball behind him, let the defender overrun him and made the layup. Then he sunk the free throw.
It was the highlight of seven thrilling minutes of play.
For the other 33 minutes, the Tribe looked like a young team that lacks experience and poise.
The starting backcourt of Brown and sophomore Matt Rum combined for 0-for-9 shooting with six assists, five rebounds and seven turnovers.
“It’s always tough to play on the road,” Rum said. “We just need to be a little more aggressive.”
As tough as the road may be, the Tribe’s backcourt has struggled offensively in its first two outings. There is no doubt that Richmond and UVa. are tough teams, but those numbers wouldn’t look good against any opponent – no matter the caliber.
That is what made those seven minutes of play in the second half so frustrating. This team is capable of so much more than its numbers relay.
For most of the game, the offense passed around the perimeter, hoping for an open three or mid-range two. That game plan worked last year because there were several offensive threats from long-range.
When the Tribe finally switched to an aggressive, transition offense style of play, they notched points on the board at a faster clip than they had all game. Richmond defenders looked on their heels and the forwards didn’t have to wait in the wings for an opportunity.
“We just need to be a little more aggressive,” Rum said. “[We] would’ve found the open man.”
It is up to the backcourt to set up situations where they can find an open man. Even though it is tough playing on the road, Richmond is a great team and the Tribe is – by Head Coach Tony Shaver’s own admission – inexperienced – there still needs to be a greater inside threat.
Against Richmond, the only threat that existed was senior forward Marcus Kitts.
He had a great night in many respects, notching a double-double with 7-for-16 shooting and 13 rebounds. He airballed three free throws, but that is forgivable after being out for over two weeks with mononucleosis.
Despite taking an early 15-7 lead, offensive stats were dominated by the front court. Junior Quinn McDowell, freshman Fred Heldring and Gaillard combined for six assists and, along with Kitts, scored most of the Tribe’s 49 points.
It would have been great to see some of those stats distributed among the Tribe’s guards, but for seven minutes in the second half, they looked pretty good.