Men’s Basketball: Tribe falls out of top two seeds in the CAA

After two consecutive losses, the Tribe now sits in fourth place in the CAA tournament and has lost the opportunity to clench one of the top two seeds in the conference tournament. COURTESY PHOTO / TRIBE ATHLETICS.

Despite dominating Delaware, William and Mary’s loss to Charleston Feb. 8 dropped the Tribe out of the top two in the Colonial Athletic Association for the first time this season. Last week, the College had road games against two of the other top teams in the conference. With victories in these two matches, the Tribe would have placed itself in the conversation for a first or second seed at the conference tournament. However, the College fell behind early against Hofstra and was unable to make a comeback. Two days later, the Tribe fought from behind again – this time taking the lead down the stretch. Nevertheless, Northeastern made a layup at the buzzer to edge out the College 69-67. With these back-to-back losses, the Tribe sits in fourth place in the CAA and has been mathematically eliminated from claiming one of the top two seeds in the conference tournament.

Thursday, the College (16-11, 9-7 CAA) took on Hofstra (17-11, 10-6 CAA) in Hempstead, New York. In the opening minutes, sophomore forwards Nathan Knight and Justin Pierce combined for the first five points for the College, giving it a 5-2 advantage. However, Pride guard Eli Pemberton drained a three on the ensuing possession to tie the game. The College never took the lead again. Once again, the Tribe’s defense struggled mightily in the first half. The Pride exploded for 46 points in just over 15 minutes and held a commanding 46-29 advantage with 4 minutes, 33 seconds to play in the opening half. Pemberton alone poured in 17 points in the first half. The Tribe was able to chip away at the deficit before halftime, but still trailed by double digits at the break, behind 48-36.

Within the first minute of the second half, the College cut the deficit to seven after senior guard Connor Burchfield drilled his second three-pointer of the game. However, Hofstra forward Rokas Gustys scored six of the Pride’s next eight points to push their lead back to 12. Gustys scored 14 of his 22 points that match in the second half; the College struggled all night to defend him, and a majority of his points came from layups.

The Tribe was able to hang around, cutting the Pride’s lead to five on multiple occasions in the second half. With just under a minute to play, Pierce hit a jumper to bring the Tribe within four points, 80-76. Pierce led the Tribe this match with 24 points and 14 boards. On Hofstra’s next possession, the College chose to play defense instead of fouling the Pride, and guard Justin Wright-Foreman made the Tribe pay with a three-pointer to put the game away with 30 seconds remaining. The College ultimately fell 90-84 into a tie with the Pride for third place in the CAA.

Two days later, the Tribe concluded its road trip at Northeastern. The Huskies (19-9, 12-4 CAA) dominated the College earlier in the season at Kaplan Arena, winning 90-70. This time, the game came down to the last second. Just like Thursday night, the College claimed a slim lead early and then trailed for a majority of the rest of the game. The Huskies led by 10 at one point in the opening 20 minutes, but the College fought back to within three points at halftime despite being hurt by 10 turnovers in the first half.

The Tribe tied the game in the first minute of the second half on three free throws by Pierce. The Huskies responded with a 9-0 run off of three straight three-pointers. With under eight minutes to play in the game, the Tribe had trimmed the deficit to just one point. Sophomore guard Matt Milon drilled a three-pointer to give the College a 56-54 lead, its first since the score was 5-4. Milon led the Tribe with a game-high 21 points, including a trio of three-pointers.

The Huskies reclaimed the lead with under four minutes to play, but Burchfield hit two free throws to give the College a 65-64 advantage with over two minutes to go. After the Huskies drained a three-pointer, Knight scored to even the game at 67. The Tribe then forced the Huskies into an empty possession and got the ball back with a chance to take the lead with a potentially game-winning shot. However, Milon missed a three, and the Huskies called time-out with just over five seconds remaining. Guard Vasa Pusica got the ball off the inbound pass and drove all the way to the basket for a game-winning layup as time expired. The Huskies claimed a 69-67 win, led by Pusica’s 19 points, six rebounds and six assists.

Next week, the College will wrap up its regular season by looking to end a two-game losing streak. The Tribe has gone 4-7 in its last 11 games, after opening CAA play with five consecutive victories. It will look to get back on track before the CAA tournament with its final two games of the regular season.

The College will play at home Thursday against North Carolina-Wilmington and Saturday against Charleston. The Tribe beat the Seahawks in a tight contest on the road earlier this season but lost to the league-leading Cougars by five points two weeks ago. Depending on what Hofstra and Towson do, the College is likely to claim the third, fourth or fifth seed in the CAA tournament. The College will not finish outside of the top six and therefore will avoid the play-in games March 3. The Tribe’s first game in the CAA tournament will be March 4 against an undetermined opponent.


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