For William and Mary, the days of road games against inferior opponents have come to a close. Although the College’s 56-53 victory on the road against UNC-Wilmington wasn’t perfect, the Tribe managed to move on from its unexpected loss to last place College of Charleston last Wednesday and reclaim first place in the Colonial Athletic Association.
“We’ve got to be proud of our players — what a gutsy win,” head coach Tony Shaver said after the game. “It was not a pretty game. … We were not very good offensively, but we were good enough defensively to get the win.”
The College’s (15-8, 9-3 CAA) strong defense limited the Seahawks’ offense — which normally averages 75.2 points per game — to just 53. The Seahawks had a low 28.8 shooting percentage for the game. However, the Tribe’s offense was hardly up to the task either, as its final score of 56 tied for its second-lowest offensive output for the year.
The Seahawks (13-10, 8-4) and the College raced neck and neck from the opening whistle, as the largest lead in the first five minutes was UNC-Wilmington’s 9-4 advantage. But the Tribe worked its way back, finally taking the lead with a three-point play from senior forward Tom Schalk, who finished with 13 points and five rebounds.
“Thirteen points, five rebounds is really impressive,” Shaver said. “It makes you smile, Tom’s a senior, he’s played sparingly for the past three and a half years … and he’s really what our program is all about, he’s ‘yes sir, no sir’ … and it is one of [the] most thrilling things for me as a coach in my 37 years to see him get his chance, and to play as well as he did.”
Senior guard and leading scorer Marcus Thornton provided most of the firepower for the College’s attack, racking up 18 points. However, the Tribe’s three-point offense — usually a strength as the team ranked sixth in the nation with a 41 percent conversion rate for shots beyond the arc — hit just one of its 11 threes. Shaver was unconcerned with the College’s long-distance struggles.
“[The Seahawks] play a pressure defense that takes that away… so I credit their defense on that,” Shaver said. “I told our guys a week ago: at some point we’re not going to make every shot, and we have to find a way to win those games. Tonight we did.”
Even though the Tribe’s defense largely shut down the Seahawks in the opening half, the Seahawks still managed to slip into the locker room with a 29-26 lead, largely due to 16 Tribe turnovers.
The second half commenced much like the first, with no clear advantage for either side. The College matched its biggest lead of the game at 50-46 with five minutes remaining. However, the Tribe couldn’t quite seal the game, as the Seahawks came right back with a 5-0 run to take the lead with just over four minutes left in regulation.
A long three from sophomore guard Dennis Dixon clanked off the front rim, but Schalk jumped up to fight for the rebound and then tipped in the decisive shot from inside with one minute and 39 seconds left at 54-53. In the waning moments, the Seahawks fouled Thornton, who buried both free throws to give the College a 56-53 lead. The game-tying three-pointer from the Seahawks hit off the back of the rim to assure the Tribe’s victory at the final second.
The win moved the College back into first place in the CAA. However, with the game against Charleston still in recent memory, Shaver indicated that the Tribe is far from relaxed at the top.
“We would like to be there at the end of the season, but it’s unchartered waters for our program,” Shaver said. “We can’t be getting caught up in thinking about first place.”
Up next for the Tribe is a Wednesday home matchup in Kaplan Arena against CAA opponent Elon (11-14, 3-9). The Tribe will look to avenge a Jan. 8 upset loss against the Phoenix by an 85-79 margin. While the College is undefeated through its last 10 home games, the Tribe has shown a nasty habit of dropping to poor teams. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.