William and Mary had three players in double figures, but not its three leading scorers from last season. Despite this solid bench production, the College’s (0-1) starters couldn’t keep pace with Hampton (1-0) Friday night, dropping the season opener 77-69.
Junior guard Marcus Thornton, senior center Tim Rusthoven and senior guard Brandon Britt led the Tribe in scoring last year. While Thornton, the only leading scorer from last year in double figures, poured in a game-high 21 points alongside a career-high six assists, Rusthoven managed just four points over 22 foul-ridden minutes that saw no rebounds. Britt was indefinitely suspended from play the day before the opener.
Instead, freshman guard Omar Prewitt shined in his college debut, recording 15 points and seven boards in 30 minutes of action. Sophomore guard Terry Tarpey rounded out the Tribe’s top scorers with 11 points in the fourth start of his career.
Hampton, however, built a 17-point advantage midway through the first half thanks in part to transfer guard Brian Darden’s 18 points. The lead never changed, as the College played catch-up all game.
“I didn’t think we defended the way we worked so hard on since last year. It was too easy for them to score in key spots, I thought,” head coach Tony Shaver told Tribe Athletics. “The execution offensively was really good at times, but not consistent. And the third thing that showed up tonight was [that] our best players didn’t play well. You go on the road, you need your veteran players to have good ballgames, and we really didn’t get that tonight.”
Outside of Thornton and Tarpey, who combined for 32 points, the Tribe’s remaining starters scored just 11 points. Rusthoven, senior forward Kyle Gaillard and senior guard Julian Boatner shot 24 percent from the field, part of a collective effort that saw the College shoot 42 percent on the night.
The Pirates hit eight of their first nine shots to jump to a 16-point lead after just four minutes of play. The College remained cold throughout the half, but trailed Hampton by just five entering the second half.
After a three-pointer cut the deficit to just three less than a minute into the second half, the Tribe’s defense came up short, allowing a 9-2 Hampton run that effectively sealed the game. Trailing by 14 points with less than eight minutes to play, the College turned to its go-to scorer: Thornton.
A Thornton-Tarpey dunk and Thornton three-pointer highlighted a Tribe run that lowered the difference to just five, but Hampton’s forward Emmanuel Okoroba scored the next six points to ensure the Pirates’ win.
Despite the loss, Shaver found bright spots in production from the junior class. Alongside Tarpey, junior forward Sean Sheldon registered seven points and seven boards.
“I thought both did a great job on the boards for us. [Sheldon] came off the bench and rebounded well, and defended really hard, and made some key free throws for us,” Shaver told Tribe Athletics. “[Tarpey], he’s a key player for us. We need to have him playing at a high level.”
With Britt absent, the College struggled to find rhythm offensively. “[Britt is] one of our captains, one of our team leaders, four-year starter, so we missed him out there,” Thornton told the Daily Press. “But we have to make do with the guys we have and we will.”
In Britt’s absence and with freshman guard Mike Schlotman sidelined with a hamstring injury, Shaver relied more heavily upon Prewitt. The freshman responded, finishing the night three rebounds shy of a double-double.
“[Prewitt] was the most confident player on the floor for us tonight, no question about it. He certainly earned himself a lot of playing time tonight,” Shaver told Tribe Athletics. “He defended pretty well, rebounded the ball well, and maybe other than one or two possessions, really did a great job offensively. Really proud of his start tonight.”
With Hampton firing on all cylinders, Thornton and company could only stay close and hope for a late-game run. Unfortunately, it never came and the Tribe dropped the first in an upcoming slew of non-conference games.
“It’s tough to win on the road in college basketball,” Shaver told Tribe Athletics. “We need to come home on Tuesday night, play well against a good Liberty team, and just play at a higher level.”
The College hosts Liberty for the home opener tonight, with the tip-off at Kaplan Arena set for 7 p.m.