A late-game comeback attempt led by freshman guard Marcus Thornton wasn’t enough Monday as William and Mary dropped its home opener to Liberty, 75-72.
The Tribe came back from 15 down with 5 minutes, 31 seconds left to pull within one of the Flames with 4 seconds left, but freshman forward Tom Schalk’s last-second heave didn’t fall, and the College remained in search of its first win.
“Every team has adversity at some point,” Thornton said of the losing streak. “And I’d rather hit it now than later on, more into tournament play. We just have to get better.”
Rebounding and defensive letdowns made the difference as 15 offensive boards for Liberty turned into 22 second-chance points. Once again, the College was clearly hurt by the absence of senior forward JohnMark Ludwick and sophomore forward Tim Rusthoven, both of whom should be out for weeks to come with injuries.
“Offensive rebounding was number one; it’s been a problem,” head coach Tony Shaver said. “We don’t have guys bringing the ball off the boards for us right now.”
After the Tribe hopped out to an early 3-0 lead off a three-pointer from senior guard Kendrix Brown, Liberty controlled the majority of the first half. Whatever slight advantage the College held at times in size, Liberty made up for in athleticism, outrebounding the Tribe 17-12 in the first half.
Down low, the Tribe struggled to match up with Liberty, as the Flames outscored the Tribe 20-8 in the paint during the first half.
But three-point shooting kept the College in the game for the first 20 minutes. Two consecutive three-pointers from sophomore guard Julian Boatner and junior guard Matt Rum gave the Tribe a 1-point lead with just over three minutes left in the first half, but an 9-1 run for Liberty — who shot 50 percent from the floor compared to the Tribe’s 43.5 percent in the first — gave the Flames a 35-28 advantage going into the locker room.
Not much changed at the start of the second half, as the Flames thrice pushed their lead to 15 at different points in the second 20 minutes. Late in the half, though, the College moved from a matchup zone defense to man-to-man and, Liberty went cold from the floor. With the Tribe down 57-42 and 8:52 remaining in the game, Thornton began to take over, first getting fouled while knocking down a long jump shot and converting the three-point play.
Then, down 13 with 2:47 left, the freshman converted a four-point play. Twenty seconds later, he hit another three-pointer to cut the deficit to seven before driving, spinning and hitting a floater in the lane to make it a three-point game with just over a minute left.
“He’s got a lot of talent,” Shaver said. “It’s an indication of the type of kid he his. He single-handedly brought us back in that ballgame.”
Thornton finished with 19 points on 7 of 12 shooting and four assists. In the end, though, a Liberty steal derailed the College’s comeback try.
Rum also had a big game, scoring 14 and hitting all four of his three-point attempts, but the team was once again hurt by a lack of production from two of its best players last season. Senior forward Quinn McDowell — coming off a knee injury that limited his pre-season practice — was 1 for 10 from the floor and sophomore guard Brandon Britt finished with just two points.
“They were probably our two best scorers last year,” Shaver said. “Quinn will get it back. Quinn will get it back … He just doesn’t have his legs under him … Brandon’s been very good in practice and is not carrying it over in ball games; it’s really a mystery to us but he’ll get it.”
The Tribe will return to action when it goes to Lynchburg to take on Lehigh Friday.