William and Mary fought valiantly Sunday, but timely misses and a questionable call sunk the Tribe in a 70-66 overtime loss to CAA-rival Delaware.
The loss to Delaware (15-9, 8-5) extends the College’s losing streak to six games, keeping the Tribe (2-21, 1-12) at the bottom of the CAA. But more noteworthy than another loss in a season with no shortage of them was the heart the Tribe showed taking on a very tough conference opponent.
“It’s the best game we’ve played,” Head Coach Debbie Taylor said. “I’m tremendously proud of their effort.”
The College trailed for most of the first half, falling behind Delaware and its star forward Elena Delle Donne, the nation’s leader in points per game. The Tribe would take the lead for a short time near the end of the half only to trail 26-22 at halftime.
Taylor employed a zone-man combination from the start of the game in an attempt to neutralize Della Doone, who finished with 33 points, with senior guard Lindsey Moller or sophomore forward Taylor Hilton guarding the Blue Hen forward.
Despite the seven inches both Moller and Hilton gave up to Delle Donne, the Tribe held the Delaware forward to 33.3 percent from the field as she missed all six of her three-point attempts and turned the ball over three times.
“We both did a great job of trying to stay on her and trying to keep the ball out of her hands,” Hilton said. “Of course she’s going to get it — they set a lot of screens for her — but we just tried to contest her shots.”
The physical defense came at a price, however, as both Moller and Hilton fouled out by the end of the game. Team fouls put the Blue Hens in the bonus early in both halves, as Delle Donne, a 91.4-percent foul shooter this season, finished 17-for-19 from the stripe.
“When you play Delle Donne every hand-check is a foul,” Taylor said. “It’s ridiculous.”
But the College stormed back in the second half. Down by seven points with 11 minutes, 30 seconds left, Hilton and junior guard Katherine DeHenzel took over. DeHenzel hit a three-pointer, and Hilton followed with a steal and three-point play on a lay-up. After a Delaware score, DeHenzel hit another three-pointer to tie the game at 37.
On the next Blue Hen possession, DeHenzel forced another turnover, picking Delaware guard Vanessa Kabongo’s pocket and taking the ball coast to coast for a lay-up and a foul. The resulting free throw put the Tribe up by three; and the College would eventually stretch its lead to eight.
“My coach has been telling me I need to be a scorer, and they were playing us in a zone, so I was just trying to fire away,” DeHenzel said.
Delaware would come right back, tying the game at 45 on a Kabongo jump-shot with 3:45 remaining. Then, with 47 seconds left and the College down one, Hilton stepped up again, hitting a baseline jumper to give the Tribe a one-point lead.
What happened next, however, would turn the tide.
With 26 seconds left and the Tribe up by one, the Blue Hens in-bounded the ball. DeHenzel stepped in front of the Delaware pass, seemingly getting possession of the ball to put the College a few clutch free throws from the upset victory. But as Taylor screamed for a timeout, Delaware scrambled to get a hand on the ball, and with the possession arrow in Delaware’s favor, the referee stepped in and called a jump-ball.
“You know, as the official, that I’m trying to call timeout at that point,” Taylor said. “I wish somebody would just look at me because, the second the ball comes off, I’m calling timeout and nobody looks at me … I guess we have to rip it; we have to own that ball.”
On the resulting Delaware possession, the Tribe was called for an off-ball foul, sending Delle Donne to the line. The forward hit both shots to give the Hens the lead with 23 seconds left.
DeHenzel brought the ball up the court, went left, then dished to junior guard Taysha Pye, who was fouled as she drove to the basket. A 72.4 percent foul shooter, Pye missed the first but connected on the second, sending the game to overtime in a 51-51 tie.
But the Tribe came out flat in the overtime period, suffering a 10-2 run at the hands of Delaware. Down eight with 2:10 left, the game seemed all but finished. Once again, though, the Tribe refused to quit. With three three-pointers, the Tribe cut the deficit to just two with 26 seconds left. But Delaware wouldn’t crack, knocking down free throw after free throw and weathering the Tribe’s final comeback to pull out a 70-66 victory.
After the game, the team — while stung by the disappointing of losing such a close contest — was proud of the way it played.
“We’ve been struggling the whole season and we played with a lot of heart and a lot of determination,” Hilton said. “Those are things we need to play with every game. Unfortunately, some things didn’t go our way.”