Three days after opening the year with a resounding 69-51 home win over Hampton, William and Mary headed to Lynchburg, Va. and used a 22-5 run at the start of the second half to get the best of Liberty, 71-59.
It was a game of streaks all night Monday, as the Flames started things off with an 8-1 run before the College responded with nine unanswered points of its own, six on the fast break. The teams remained close until the end of the opening half, when the Flames launched an 11-2 run to put them up 38-23 at halftime. In the locker room, the College had to mull over a first half in which it was handily outplayed.
“It’s a real gut check for us,” head coach Tony Shaver said in a post-game radio interview. “They had a determined look in their face [during halftime] and the first three or four minutes [of the second half] defensively really set the tone.”
The Tribe came out for the second half reinvigorated on both ends, utterly dominating Liberty for the first twelve minutes of the second. Over that span the College held the Flames to 2 of 19 shooting and forced five turnovers while outscoring Liberty 22-5 to take a 55-43 lead.
Leading the way all night was junior guard Brandon Britt, who followed up his 17-point performance against Hampton with 21 points on 8 of 13 shooting, three assists, three rebounds and three steals.
“He had such a great off-season,” Shaver said. “He worked so hard. He did a great job defensively, he was special tonight.”
Foul trouble kept sophomore guard Marcus Thornton — who lit it up last week against Hampton for 24 points — and junior starting center Tim Rusthoven off the court for much of the second half, but others picked up the slack, particularly freshman guard Terry Tarpey, who used his long arms to disrupt passes all night, finishing with three steals and 14 points on 5 of 8 shooting from the field.
“Brandon Britt and Terry Tarpey turned the game with their defensive effort,” Shaver said. “[Terry] is a great anticipator. He often sets the pass up so he can get a hand on it. … Without him, we’re not in the position we are right now.”
Eventually, the Flames stopped the bleeding and stayed competitive until the end, cutting the College’s lead to 59-56 with 2:40 to play.
But Britt was too much, hitting two free throws before coming up with a steal and going coast-to-coast for a lay. On the ensuing Liberty possession, it was Tarpey that pulled to robbery and got it up to Britt for another lay-up to make it 65-56 with 1:32 left.
The Tribe shot 47.7 percent from the field and scored 18 points off turnovers on the night while the Flames it just 39.7 percent of their field goal attempts.
“There’s a real determination about this team,” Shaver said. “I told this team yesterday I think we’re starting to get a bit of an identity defensively … it didn’t show in the first 20 minutes but it did in the second.”
The College heads back on the road Saturday to take on High Point.