Thirty-five days. Five weeks. Eight games.
Any way you look at it, its been a long time since William and Mary’s last win, Dec. 21 over Sailsbury.
Thus it came as a relief when the Tribe finally broke the streak Saturday with a 63-56 win over Towson. (More after the slideshow)
“It’s a great feeling,” Shaver said. “We’ve been so close in so many of those games, and I think tonight, we played with a competitive spirit that’s been missing a little bit in that losing streak. … Our spirit was broken a little bit, and we’ve had to work hard to regain that competitive spirit, and I thought we saw it in full force tonight.”
The Tribe (8-11, 2-6 CAA) hasn’t beaten a Division-I program since before Christmas and its confidence appeared to dip in recent weeks following a string of close losses to top programs. One such loss occurred Jan. 9 when the Tribe blew a late lead, allowing those same Tigers to overtake them for a crushing overtime defeat.
With that loss still fresh in their minds, the Tribe utilized solid defense and a balanced offensive effort — two things not frequently seen during the squad’s losing streak — to seal the victory in the final minutes.
With 3 minutes, 8 seconds left in the contest, junior guard Brandon Britt slashed through the lane to tie the game at 54. At that point, the College found itself in a very familiar position: tied with less than three minutes to go and the chance to win. For the first time this season, the College was able to withstand a late rally and halt its opponent. See full box score here.
Shaver credits the Tribe’s late game stand to an improved focus on defense.
“The defense was different tonight,” Shaver said. “At Northeastern, we made offensive plays to win the ballgame, but we didn’t get the stops necessary to win in a high-level game, but tonight we did.”
The College’s big men were the key defensively. In the first half, the Tigers used their superior size, namely Georgetown transfer Jerelle Benimon, to score at will under the basket. In the second half, however, the Tribe was able to corral Benimon, earning a few key charging calls.
“Kyle Gaillard was a man on Benimon tonight. He’s probably outweighed by about 40 pounds but really gave his heart and soul to his team tonight,” Shaver said.
Gaillard, who held Benimon to 12 points, was part of a balanced Tribe offense. During the losing streak, Shaver thought the team was becoming unbalanced, with the “Big Three” — junior forward Tim Rusthoven, sophomore guard Marcus Thornton and Britt — accounting for the majority of the team’s points.
On Saturday, Gaillard spent the majority of the day above the rim, landing several crushing dunks en route to a 14-point effort. Junior guard Julian Boatner and senior guard Matt Rum both chipped in on the offensive end, while freshman guard Terry Tarpey grabbed seven rebounds, rounding out a good day for the Tribe bench.
“I think we had more guys contribute, and if the defense has to respect everyone on the court, it opens things up on the floor,” Gaillard said.
The extra help opened things up for Thornton, who had 16 points and took over the game late. Britt started slow but finished strong, scoring most of his 12 points late in the game. Rusthoven recorded a rather pedestrian double-double, netting 14 points and grabbing 10 rebounds.
In the first half, the Tigers utilized a mix of sharpshooting and inside-post play to take a commanding early advantage over the Tribe. Benimon was a force inside, and the College had no answer for his play under the basket. Towson guard Jerome Hairston was unstoppable from beyond the arc, nailing several three pointers early. As a result, the Towson lead reached as many as nine in the first half.
Around the nine-minute mark in the first half, the College went on a 9-0 run aided by Gaillard and Thornton. After a jumper by Rusthoven, Gaillard scored on a layup and a dunk in rapid succession to cut the Tigers lead to three. Thornton then nailed a three from the corner to bring the score to 19 apiece.
From there, the two squads exchanged the lead a number of times, and the Tigers took a one point advantage into the intermission. The close competition continued after the break, as neither team led by more than three points until 2:00 was left and Thornton connected on two free throws to give the College a lead it would never relinquish.
As the clock continued to wind, the Tribe made just enough free throws to secure the victory.
“I heard people saying that maybe we were losing confidence, and we lost eight games in a row, but in that Northeastern game, we started to get our confidence back in the second half, and we were able to come out here today and do what we needed to do, so moving forward, it’s great for us,” Thornton said.
While the College will certainly enjoy the victory, Shaver knows the squad must continue to show a consistent effort in order to continue to be successful.
“We’ve just got to carry on,” Shaver said. “If you really want to be a great college basketball team, you’ve got to do this every day, not just here and there, not just one half and not the second half, so we’ve got to carry on and take this fire with us.”