Sophomore guard Terry Tarpey sent Kaplan Arena into hysterics three seconds into Wednesday’s Colonial Athletic Association matchup. Tarpey’s two-handed dunk had junior guard Marcus Thornton smiling and William and Mary confident against Delaware.
The Tribe, though, shot 2-of-10 in the following five minutes as the Blue Hens rushed out to a seven-point lead, 13-6, at the under-15 minute timeout. Conference-leading Delaware (15-7, 7-0 CAA) never looked back, and the Tribe (12-8, 4-3 CAA) failed to get closer than nine points down en route to an 89-72 loss.
“They’re undefeated in the league for a reason. I really thought the game was decided, in essence, when you look back at it, probably in the first five minutes,” head coach Tony Shaver said. “We dug such a deep hole and just couldn’t get out of it.”
Aside from missing clean looks, the Tribe’s offense couldn’t find a handle on the ball in the early minutes of the game. The Tribe committed six turnovers in the first half, with five occurring in the opening 10 minutes of play.
Still, the Tribe’s sloppy offense paled in comparison to its defensive effort.
“We definitely felt good, we felt confident. We prepared for it and were focused. I think — like coach Shaver said in the locker room — I think we might have been a little too excited,” Thornton said. “We took a lot of quick shots to start the game off. … Those quick shots are good for us, but they weren’t falling early. The combination of that and not playing defense early — we got ourselves in a hole.”
The Blue Hens had their way with the Tribe’s schemes, no matter whether man, zone or trap defenses. Guard Devon Saddler, inserted into the lineup following the suspension of guard Jarvis Threatt, controlled the pace of a relentless Delaware attack. Saddler finished with 19 points and a game-high seven assists — all seven came in the first half.
“You get behind Delaware, Saddler is going to control the tempo of the game. He’s one of the most difficult players our team has tried to defend,” Shaver said. “He’s got great speed, he’s unbelievably strong. He just really controls the game.”
Meanwhile, the College shot just 34.5 percent from the field in the opening period. Open looks clanged off the rim and easy lay-ups found ways to fall for Delaware rebounds. Thornton, who would finish with a team-high 19 points on 7-of-18 shooting, entered the half as the Tribe’s second-leading scorer — a rarity highlighting the Tribe’s offensive struggles.
“We talk all the time of shooting with confidence. Some of our guys passed up open shots, and when you play good teams you can’t pass up good shots,” Thornton said. “I think we were a little off tonight, but at the end of the day, the defense can never be off. That’s what really hurt us the most.”
Despite a renewed energy coming out of the break, the College would only climb within nine points of Delaware’s lead.
Seemingly on the verge of a game-changing run every few moments, Saddler or Delaware guard Davon Usher — who finished with a game-high 28 points on 9-of-15 shooting, including hitting 6-of-9 from deep — would nail a tough shot to keep the Tribe at arm’s reach.
Even as the College warmed to 47.1 percent shooting performance in the second half, the Blue Hens responded with a 56 percent that saw four players score in double digits.
Sorely needing defensive help, Shaver sent in freshman forward Daniel Dixon. Standing six feet, five inches, Dixon provides the height and speed required to cover an opponent like Saddler.
“We felt we had to try [Dixon] on Saddler, and he did a nice job,” Shaver said. “Both ends of the floor, really.”
Dixon finished with 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting, including 4-of-6 from deep, and added six rebounds and a pair of steals in an impressive 26 minutes of play.
With Dixon on the court, six-time CAA Rookie of the Week Omar Prewitt saw just 16 minutes of action. Fellow wingmen Tarpey and Gaillard recorded 13 minutes and 25 minutes, respectively.
“We have a little bit of an issue at the wing spot and who plays right now. We’re trying to go with the hot players, quite honestly, who can help us on that day win ballgames,” Shaver said. “Daniel can be a really good player.”
With the frontcourt chasing Saddler and Usher, senior center Tim Rusthoven struggled to contain Delaware big man Carl Baptiste. Due to foul trouble, sophomore center Sean Sheldon saw 18 minutes. Combined, Rusthoven and Sheldon shot 3 of 11 for 9 points and 11 rebounds.
“[Baptiste] obviously dominated the inside. Timmy had a very rough night, just missing so many ‘gimmies’ in there,” Shaver said. “Baptiste is a big strong, physical kid and kind of had his way on both ends of the floor.”
Baptiste helped Delaware reach 89 points, the most the Tribe has allowed all season.
“It’s been a principle of ours; it’s something we’ve been struggling with all season, playing good defense on a consistent basis,” Thornton said. “We were excited, I think we were ready to play, but just didn’t get it done defensively like we needed to.”
The result of the Tribe’s fourth game in eight days drops the College from its No. 2 conference standing.
“Four games in eight days is tough. It’s what we’ve been dealt; you have to play with it,” Shaver said. “No excuses, just have to play. All we’re facing now is three straight road games.”
The Tribe travels to Harrisonburg, Va. Feb. 2 for a rematch with James Madison. The Tribe topped the Dukes 78-56 Jan. 18. Tip is set for 2:30 p.m.