After suffering a crushing 91-79 home loss to Drexel, William and Mary faced a crucial week, traveling to Charleston to take on the top team in the Colonial Athletic Association Thursday before coming home to face Delaware Saturday in the annual Gold Rush game. The Tribe (16-9, 9-5 CAA) dropped a hard-fought game against the Cougars (20-6, 11-3 CAA) 82-77, but bounced back to claim an 83-66 rout over the Blue Hens.
The game started quickly, the Cougars staking a 12-10 lead over the College by the first media timeout. Charleston extended that lead to six before the Tribe went on a quick 9-0 run to gain its first lead of the contest, 21-18. Junior forward Paul Rowley, who finished with 11 points, capped the spurt with his first of three three-pointers on the night.
The College lead remained in place for nearly the rest of the half, stretching to eight at its largest. However, with one minute and 39 seconds left in the half, Charleston guard Grant Riller hit his third of three straight triples in a span of a minute and a half to give the Cougars the lead, 37-36. Riller posted an eye-popping 28 in the first half. Charleston kept this lead until the end of the period, as Rowley made a buzzer-beating three to tie the game at 41.
“I thought mixing our defenses worked,” head coach Tony Shaver said to Tribe Athletics. “The zone, the one-three-one really bothered them in the first half … Other than Riller, I thought we defended well tonight.”
Starting the second half, the teams traded punches. The Cougars jumped out to a five-point lead before senior guard Connor Burchfield hit a three for the College just before the under-four media timeout. Sophomore forward Nathan Knight, who finished with 29 points for the Tribe, keyed an 8-0 run for the College, scoring six points in the span. The Tribe’s four-point lead was its last before the Cougars took control.
“Nate was great tonight,” Shaver said to Tribe Athletics. “But, we have to have that out of Nate every night. I know he’s a sophomore, sometimes it’s hard to be consistent. But he was ready to play, he was focused.”
As good a night as he had, Knight was unable to outduel Riller, who hit a clutch three to seal the deal for Charleston with 1:01 to play. His 37 points marked a career high, helping the Cougars maintain their first-place status in the CAA, beating the Tribe 82-77.
“I don’t think we’ve been great in the last week or two,” Shaver said to Tribe Athletics. “I told our players, I feel better walking out of the gym tonight about them than I did before the ball game. I thought we had a look in our eye that we need to get back on a consistent basis.”
Saturday, the Tribe returned to Kaplan Arena to take on the Blue Hens.
The College started slowly, as Delaware (11-16, 4-10 CAA) got out to a quick 11-5 lead. 11 early points by sophomore forward Justin Pierce pulled the Tribe ahead, 15-14.
Blue Hens guard Ryan Allen responded with a mid-range jumper and then a three, giving Delaware a 19-15 lead. Allen had 23 points in the half, hitting six threes in the period.
“If I’m disappointed in anything, I’m disappointed in the way we started the ball game defensively,” Shaver said to Tribe Athletics. “Their one great shooter, Allen, got too many open looks. We talked about not letting him get early looks so he would get confident and hot, but just that happened.”
This time, however, the Tribe would not be bested by a singular performance.
With 9:44 left in the first half, Pierce reentered the game for Burchfield, the College trailing 25-20. Immediately, the Tribe went on a 18-4 run, retaking the lead for good. 10 more points for Pierce led the way, pushing the team’s advantage to 38-29 as the clock hit 4:38 to go in the half. The 6-foot-7-inch sophomore tallied 23 points in the first half, leading his team to a 47-39 lead at the midway point.
“I got a couple calls early going to the basket and a couple easy buckets off a dive cut from [Knight], and [senior guard David Cohn] found me for a couple baskets early on,” Pierce said to Tribe Athletics. “Then, when I hit that first three, it really made the hoop look a little bigger today. I don’t know, I just felt really good.”
Coming out of the gate, the Tribe went on an 11-2 streak, bolstering its lead. Knight, who finished with 11 points on the day, had the first five points of the run, setting the tone for the half to come.
The College, which struggled shutting down Allen in the first half, gave up only 10 points in the first 13 minutes of the second half. In that time, the Tribe outscored Delaware by 20, giving it a 77-49 lead. Allen scored only two points in the second half, finishing with 25.
“Really proud of our defense in the second half,” Shaver said to Tribe Athletics. “We really defended much better in the second half. Justin Pierce obviously had a good game offensively, but his biggest impact was when we put him on Allen, their hot player. He did a great job, a great job defending him.”
Pierce and Knight came out of the game with just under seven minutes to go, up 28. The Tribe cruised the rest of the way to an 83-66 victory.
“We’ve proven we can compete with anybody in the league,” Shaver said to Tribe Athletics. “What we haven’t proven is that we can beat the best teams in this league. We’re right there, but we just have to find a way to make a step.”
The College continues down the home stretch of the regular season, heading to Hofstra for a matchup with the Pride Thursday before making the trip to Boston to play the second-place Northeastern Saturday. The College will then finish up its last two games of the year at home.