William and Mary hosted one of the biggest games of the year Sunday night in Kaplan Arena, defeating James Madison on live television in the biggest comeback of the 2015-16 season so far. The Tribe prevailed 68-62, delivering the Dukes their first road loss despite being down by as much as 18 points during the first half.
“Something we really needed, a big step for our basketball team,” head coach Tony Shaver said. “We’ve been in the lead at halftime a number of times and not played the way we wanted. Today we were horrendous for 20 minutes, [JMU] was very good for 20 minutes. For our guys to stay together, stick together, come out and play as hard as we did and see the execution level reach another stage was really important for our club.”
Games against the Dukes (16-7, 6-4 CAA), one of the biggest rivalries for the College (15-6, 7-3 CAA), are normally hard-fought. Sunday’s game had Colonial Athletic Association implications as well, as the two teams entered tied for third place. With the win, the Tribe holds down second place with Towson while JMU remains in third.
Something we really needed, a big step for our basketball team,” head coach Tony Shaver said. “We’ve been in the lead at halftime a number of times and not played the way we wanted. Today we were horrendous for 20 minutes, [JMU] was very good for 20 minutes. For our guys to stay together, stick together, come out and play as hard as we did and see the execution level reach another stage was really important for our club.”
Coming off a win at Delaware Thursday, the College started slowly, scoring just eight points for an early one-point lead with 17 minutes and 46 seconds before halftime, and then proceeded to enter huge scoring droughts. After senior forward Sean Sheldon sank a jumper for the eighth point, the Tribe did not make a shot for almost three and a half minutes. The drought was stopped by a layup from sophomore guard David Cohn. During that span, four different College players attempted three-pointers, all missing the mark. Both teams were missing shots, as JMU only scored five points during William and Mary’s cold streak.
The Tribe stayed cold after Cohn’s shot, the Dukes opening a large gap over 3:55 of clock through a 13-0 run to the 10:30 mark. All of the points came from beyond the arc, the last becoming a four-point play when sophomore guard Oliver Tot fouled Dukes guard Ron Curry beyond the three-point line. The score sat at 25-13 after junior guard Omar Prewitt ended the run with a three-pointer of his own. However, the Dukes weren’t done extending their lead, increasing it to 18 with the score at 31-13 with 8:55 to go before halftime.
“We knew we weren’t playing how we should be at halftime,” Prewitt said. “We were letting their shooters get too many open threes defensively and we were doing a lot of uncharacteristic things offensively.”
The comeback began early for the Tribe, as Shaver altered the defense from man-to-man to a 3-2 zone, giving the College more control of the perimeter to stop the barrage of outside shots. Appearing surprised by the shift, JMU was unable to score for the final four minutes of the half while the Tribe cut its deficit to 12 points by the buzzer, most of the shots coming from the charity stripe and in the paint. At the break, the Dukes led 38-26.
We knew we weren’t playing how we should be at halftime,” Prewitt said. “We were letting their shooters get too many open threes defensively and we were doing a lot of uncharacteristic things offensively.”
“I thought we did a nice job finding the shooters, matching up with the shooters,” Shaver said. “The only thing we didn’t do a good job of in the zone is rebounding the ball.”
The Tribe stormed out of the locker room, poised and prepared to take back the game on its home court. One minute and 20 seconds into the half, the Dukes’ lead dropped to single digits for the first time since the 12:36 mark of the first half. William and Mary didn’t stop there, cutting the lead to seven with a steal and fast break dunk by senior forward Terry Tarpey, hyping up the crowd of 3,681.
The Tribe continued its run until it took its first lead since the first three minutes of the game, dominating the floor to go ahead 41-40 with 13:27 to play. The 15-2 run from the whistle put the College up 43-40 before the Dukes broke their scoring drought after over six minutes of clock ran off.
The two teams continued to exchange the lead for several minutes, neither getting an advantage of more than three points until the final two minutes. Defensively, the game became much more physical with fouls and close coverage, preventing scoring for long stretches to those final two minutes. When the two-minute mark hit, the Tribe began its killing blows, junior guard Daniel Dixon hitting a clutch three-pointer from a Sheldon feed to go up 60-55.
JMU brought back its perimeter offense, desperate for three-pointers. The Dukes sank just one of five attempts from range in the final two minutes and only took two shots inside the arc, a successful jumper and a last-second lay-up. The free throw line became the nail in the coffin for the Dukes, the College drawing fouls often, adding six points off 100 percent accuracy via Dixon and sophomore guard Greg Malinowski as the entirety of Kaplan Arena stood on its feet. Time ticked down and Dixon took possession after JMU’s final lay-up, sealing the victory.
I think we understand that, as a club, if we don’t defend, we can’t challenge for a championship,” Shaver said.
Statistically, the bench wasn’t utilized as much Sunday, only adding nine points. Both teams sparred evenly in the paint, notching 28 points apiece. William and Mary reduced its turnovers, only allowing seven while forcing 15 and scoring 16 points off of them. During the second half, the College improved from 32 percent from the floor to 56 percent. The Tribe also hit 11 of 13 free throws in the second half to go 16 for 22 for the game. Dixon led the team with 17 points, Prewitt right behind at 16. Rebounding was low at just 32 to JMU’s 41. On the defensive side, William and Mary stole the ball eight times in the game while keeping the Dukes to just 10 for 31 from the floor and 2 for 16 from three in the second half.
“I think we understand that, as a club, if we don’t defend, we can’t challenge for a championship,” Shaver said.
The Tribe travels to Boston for a Thursday tilt at Northeastern before returning to Williamsburg to host the second annual Gold Rush game Saturday at 2:30 p.m. against Delaware.