After a loss to Drexel dropped William and Mary out of first place in the Colonial Athletic Association, the Tribe had a chance to reclaim the top spot when it took on Charleston Thursday. However, the College dropped its second-straight contest, as key turnovers down the stretch prevented the Tribe from coming from behind for a victory. Nevertheless, the College bounced back with a commanding 83-66 rout of Delaware in the Gold Rush game at Kaplan Arena.
Bouncing back from losses has been a theme of the Tribe’s season. The College is 16-9 on the season but has never lost more than two consecutive games. In fact, the Tribe has only lost two straight games on two occasions, one of which occurred in the past week with back-to-back losses against Drexel and Charleston. The College has managed to stay near the top of the conference throughout CAA play, in part due to its ability to avoid extended losing streaks. Even after major losses to Towson and Northeastern at home, the Tribe responded by gutting out a road victory against Elon. The College’s resiliency has been key to keeping it in the conversation for a conference championship.
The College has had several players step up with big performances throughout the season, especially among its starters. After dropping its season-opener to High Point, the Tribe bounced back with an 83-76 victory over Hampton, led by a monster effort from sophomore forward Nathan Knight. Knight scored 31 points and added 14 rebounds. Several games later, senior guard Connor Burchfield helped the Tribe win a high-scoring game over Marshall with 30 points on a record-setting 10-12 shooting from three. Just last weekend, sophomore forward Justin Pierce exploded for 33 points, 23 of which came in the opening 20 minutes against Delaware. However, not all great individual performances have led to a Tribe victory. Senior guard David Cohn scored a career-high 26 points against Drexel, but, despite his offensive outburst, the College did not receive enough from other players to hold off the Dragons. The same can be said of Knight’s performance against the Cougars last week. Knight had 29 points and seven rebounds, but the College was unable to pick up the victory. While the College has several high-caliber players capable of having great nights, it cannot just rely on one or two players to carry the team to a win on any given night.
The CAA tournament, which will be held Mar. 3-6 in North Charleston, South Carolina, will include all 10 teams from the conference. The bottom four teams, based on their conference records, will play the first day of the tournament in play-in games. After two teams are eliminated in those games, the remaining eight teams will play three games in three days to determine the CAA champion and automatic bid to the 68-team National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament. The College has never qualified for the NCAA tournament and is one of four original NCAA teams to never make the tournament.
The College certainly has the talent to win the CAA tournament. It is almost assured of finishing in the top six of the conference and therefore will likely avoid having to engage in a play-in game for the tournament. The Tribe will have to win three games in three days to be crowned CAA champions, a distinction which has long eluded it. Despite having great talent and team chemistry, the Tribe must play nearly flawlessly in North Charleston to finally become the team to cut down the nets at the CAA tournament. Defense has been an issue for the College all season, as has its lack of size outside of Knight.
The biggest key to the Tribe achieving its goal of winning a conference championship is consistency.
The College has proved it is capable of avoiding long losing streaks and bouncing back from losses. In the CAA tournament, though, the stakes are much higher — it’s win or go home. The College does not have a chance to respond to a loss at any point during the CAA tournament.
The Tribe must find a way to have multiple key players step up every night on both the offensive and defensive ends to give the College a chance to run the table in North Charleston. The team needs to recapture some of the magic of its two five-game winning streaks earlier this season and put together several comprehensive team efforts in order to reach its full potential. In the CAA tournament, one player having a big performance is not likely to be enough to push the College to a championship. However, if multiple players play up to their potential and the College continues to show solid team chemistry, this year’s team could achieve something that no other team in Tribe men’s basketball history has done.