Men’s Basketball: College bounces back from lackluster first half, beats UNC-Wilmington 96-83

0
360
Connor Burchfield had 16 points in the second half to help lead the Tribe past UNC-Wilmington. COURTESY PHOTO / TRIBE ATHLETICS

After a subpar first half, William and Mary came out aggressive in the second half, dominating the opening five minutes after intermission en route to a 96-83 comeback. The Colonial Athletic Association victory was led by sophomore guard Justin Pierce’s 22 points.

Thursday night, the Seahawks of UNC-Wilmington (9-20, 6-11 CAA) traveled to Kaplan Arena to take on the Tribe (17-11, 10-7 CAA), having lost two in a row coming into tonight’s game.

Both teams started aggressively, pushing the pace and attacking the rim. Three minutes into the contest, senior guard David Cohn hustled for a loose ball, flipping it behind his back down the floor to streaking sophomore guard Matt Milon, who converted the basket to give the Tribe a 9-5 lead. After a pair of free throws for the Seahawks, Pierce countered with his second three of the game to push the lead to 12-7.

After two UNC-Wilmington baskets cut the Tribe’s lead to one, sophomore forward Nathan Knight countered with a silky baby hook to push the Tribe advantage to 14-11. One play removed from his second turnover of the night, Cohn showed his senior poise, cleanly stripping the ball from Seahawks guard Jay Estime and taking it coast to coast to lay it home for a 20-18 Tribe lead.

After the teams traded baskets for several minutes, Seahawks forward Marcus Bryan knocked down a baseline 15-footer to give UNC-Wilmington its first lead of the night, 28-26. The next play down the floor, the Tribe countered with a 1-2 game from Cohn and graduate forward Cole Harrison, resulting in a Cohn triple to give the home team a 29-28 lead with just over six minutes left in the first half.

“Coach gave us a strong message,” Cohn said. “All of us knew that the first four minutes of the second half, we needed to play perfect basketball.”

UNC-Wilmington took control over the next four minutes, pushing their lead to 41-34 with just over two minutes remaining, thanks in large part to two Tribe turnovers. After a pair of Seahawks triples in the closing minute and a half of the half, they took a 47-38 lead into the locker room.

The Seahawks outrebounded the Tribe 22-12 in the half, including a 9-2 advantage on the offensive glass. This keyed the Seahawks’ 12-0 advantage in second chance points.

The Tribe offense looked far more composed to start the second half, starting with Knight making the extra pass to senior guard Connor Burchfield for a corner triple, cutting the UNC-Wilmington lead to six.

A Tony Shaver halftime special saw a switch to a 3-2 zone, forcing a pair of ill-advised Seahawk shots and a timeout from Seahawks head coach CB McGrath just a minute and a half after intermission.

“Coach gave us a strong message,” Cohn said. “All of us knew that the first four minutes of the second half, we needed to play perfect basketball.”

After the timeout, Milon finished the old-fashioned three-point lead, cutting the Seahawks’ lead to one, 47-46. A minute later, excellent ball movement led to a Burchfield triple to push the College in front, 49-47.

With 14 minutes left in the game, Cohn again facilitated a strong motion offense on two straight plays, leading to two straight Pierce baskets: a head-on triple and a two-handed flush on a wide open backdoor cut, pushing the Tribe ahead, 58-57. A play later, Pierce dialed up another three.

“I’m really proud of our second half,” Shaver said. “We got back to really sharing the basketball, the way we’ve played all year long. We trusted ourselves, our teammates. We really made the extra pass that second half, starting with the first possession of the second half.”

The Seahawks stopped Pierce’s 8-0 solo run when Ty Taylor’s baseline drive ended with an emphatic one-handed jam, pulling UNC-Wilmington back within two, 61-59, with just over 12 minutes left.

Pierce continued his terrific second half, knocking down his third three of the half on one possession before tipping an offensive rebound to Milon, who drew the foul. After converting one of two at the line, the Tribe led 65-61.

UNC-Wilmington guard Jaylen Fornes continued to have the hot hand, knocking down his sixth triple of the game on the ensuing possession. Milon countered with a three of his own to push the Tribe lead back to four.

With the shot clock running down and the Tribe up just two, Cohn dribbled down the right baseline, pulled back and knocked down a fadeaway 14-footer to give the Tribe a 75-71 lead with eight minutes to play. After the College forced a turnover, a three-on-two fast break ended with Burchfield knocking down a floater, getting fouled in the process. The ensuing free throw pushed the Tribe’s lead to seven, its largest of the night. The following possession, Milon knocked down a three to push the lead to 85-75. McGrath called a timeout to calm his team and quiet the boisterous home crowd.

After hasty three-point attempts from each team, Cohn threaded a nifty bounce pass across the lane to a cutting Burchfield, who laid home the reverse layup for an 87-77 lead with four and a half minutes left.

On the very next play, Knight was whistled for his fourth foul, then called for a technical by referee Les Jones, fouling him out of the game.

After UNC-Wilmington cut the Tribe lead to just eight, junior forward Paul Rowley delivered a dagger triple from the corner to give the College a 90-79 lead. After a Tribe stop, Cohn was whistled for a highly questionable offensive foul with two minutes remaining, again by Les Jones.

Despite several good looks, UNC-Wilmington was unable to knock down shots in the closing minutes, and the Tribe held on to win 96-83.

“I’m really proud of our second half,” Shaver said. “We got back to really sharing the basketball, the way we’ve played all year long. We trusted ourselves, our teammates. We really made the extra pass that second half, starting with the first possession of the second half.”

Pierce was quick to note the importance of strong defense in keying the second half surge.

“I think they got offensive rebounds on half of their missed shots in the first half. We know that if we can get that first rebound then we can go and attack in transition because that’s our advantage. That’s where we got them in the second half,” said Pierce.

Pierce led the Tribe in scoring with 22 points on seven of 12 shooting from the floor.

“He’s a stat stuffer,” Shaver said. “And he really does remind me a little bit of Terry Tarpey. He’s been a terrific sophomore.”

Knight added 18 and Burchfield had 20. Cohn finished with nine points and 11 assists, proving again how indispensable he is for the Tribe’s offense.

The College survived being outrebounded 36-31 (15-7 on the offensive glass) and survived an 18-10 Seahawk advantage in second chance points.  However, the Tribe finished with 13 bench points compared to just two, which came in the final minute, for the Seahawks.

“We have to make shots; let’s be honest about that,” Shaver said. “If we’re not making shots, we’re just a mediocre basketball team.”

In the end, the Tribe turned a nine-point halftime deficit into a 13-point victory, keyed in large part by 11 straight Tribe points for Pierce, who is proving he can handle the increased scoring role that comes with the departure of Daniel Dixon ’17 and Omar Prewitt ’17.

Both Cohn and Pierce identified defensive energy as the key to the comeback.

“If you look at a lot of big wins early in the season, even early in conference, it was our energy on defense, helping each other,” Cohn said. “Once the energy picks up, we feed off of that all around.”

The Tribe finishes the regular season on Saturday with a home contest against Charleston on senior night at 4 p.m. After that, the Tribe will head to the CAA tournament, where they seek the ever-elusive NCAA tournament bid.

“We know if we are hitting on offense and our defense is there, we can make a run, we can make a three-game run,” Pierce said.

Despite his pleasure with the team’s defensive focus in the second half, Shaver recognizes the true strength of this team lies in its offense.

“We have to make shots; let’s be honest about that,” Shaver said. “If we’re not making shots, we’re just a mediocre basketball team.”