With 11 minutes, 44 seconds remaining in the second half, William and Mary head coach Tony Shaver sat on the bench as it were a recliner. There was no need to worry, as his squad had built a 25-point lead over visiting University of North Carolina Wilmington (9-16, 409 CAA).
Five minutes later Shaver had abandoned his chair and resumed pacing the sideline. If any team were to lose a 25-point lead and somehow find late-game drama, it would be this one.
“When you’ve had some tough luck late in ball games like we’ve had — three double-overtime losses and a tough loss here the other night — winning’s not easy,” Shaver said.
While it wasn’t easy or pretty, the Tribe did escape, riding sophomore guard Marcus Thornton late to down the Seahawks 92-86.
”It was a good win for us. We always find a way to make it interesting,” junior guard Brandon Britt said. “I know we were up by like 25, but it ended and we won, so it feels good to get that win.”
After losing a 25-point lead in the closing minutes, the show turned to Thornton. With the Seahawks using a full-court press, his ability to weave through traffic and draw fouls proved enough to preserve the win.
As the second half wound down, the College’s play turned sloppy, reminiscent of many late-game meltdowns throughout the season.
“We have to find a way to finish games,” Britt said. “It’s been our thing all year. We’ve been right there with everybody, we’ve played with them, but we just can’t finish it. I’m glad we found a way to win today, but we have to work on finishing games.”
To Shaver, the Seahawk’s run was a result of poor defensive execution, especially when it came to rebounding.
“We got a little sloppy with the ball,
Shaver said. “That was key because it gave them easy transition baskets that they didn’t have to earn.”
“We weren’t quite good defensively, and certainly our rebounding wasn’t as good the second half. Where we did get stops, they got the rebound and scored on it.”
The College scored just seven second-chance points, while the Seahawks tallied 19. Turnovers also allowed the Seahawks to rally as Wilmington scored 20 points off Tribe giveaways.
“We had 13 turnovers,” Shaver said. “That gave them easy transition baskets, and we have to be tougher on the defensive boards. We gave up 11 second shots. Those two things, that’s probably 20 points right there.”
Ultimately, the Tribe’s offense proved enough to pull out the win. Shaver used 10 different players in a variety of rotations, with four different players scoring in the double digits.
“Everyone played with confidence,” Thornton said. “A lot of games this year, guys have missed a couple of shots and lost their confidence. Everyone stuck to what they did well, we were able to score.”
Missing shots wasn’t a primary concern: The College shot 61 percent from the floor (its best percentage since 2006), 57 percent from beyond the arc and 89 percent from the free throw line. Thornton finished with a game high 25 points and five assists, but it was Britt who carried the team for much of the game, going 8 of 10 from the floor and 3 of 4 from three to finish with 22 points and six assists.
“I’m glad I hit some shots. I’ve been putting the extra time in shooting the ball in the gym, so I was glad I could shoot the ball well,” Britt said. “I’m proud of myself for getting other people shots. I think it was like a career-high six assists for me, so it was pretty good.”
More than anything, Britt impressed Shaver with his decision making.
“Brandon had 17 or 18 at half, and he had three two-on-one breaks in the second half,” Shaver said. “He might have shot that ball earlier in the year, [but] he gave it up to teammates. That’s a big step for our ball club right there. … Brandon was terrific.”
Shaver’s rotations helped balance the Tribe’s offense. Despite struggling earlier in the season with uneven offensive production, the Tribe got production out of some of its younger players.
“We switch the teams up a lot in practice,” Thornton said. “Everyone has a good feel for everyone else out there, so we all mesh well.”
All told, the Tribe’s offense erupted for 51 first-half points, the most its put up since 2007. In the first, the Seahawks scored one point per possession, while the Tribe pumped in 1.5.
The College also improved defensively. Contesting shots and defensive rebounds helped the fast-break game, where the Tribe outscored the Seahawks 24-8. The Seahawks’ Keith Rendleman scored 24 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, but fell short of dominating the contest.
“We were playing with energy on defense, and we tried to do a good job on Rendleman,” Britt said.
“He’s a good player so he made some shots, but I think in the first half we came out with energy and played good defense.”
The Tribe travels to Old Dominion Saturday.