Men’s basketball: Cohn, defense power Tribe to 80-66 win over Towson in CAA quarterfinal

Senior guard Connor Burchfield (left) and sophomore guard Matt Milon look to the official after a foul call in Sunday's 80-66 CAA quarterfinal win for the Tribe. EMILY CHAUMONT / THE FLAT HAT

Despite going 6-7 over its last thirteen games of Colonial Athletic Association play, William and Mary entered the conference tournament coming off back-to-back wins over North Carolina-Wilmington and top-seeded Charleston. In the quarterfinals of the CAA Tournament, the Tribe faced No. 5 seed Towson, who beat the College in both regular season matchups. This time, though, the Tribe (19-11, 12-7 CAA) never trailed and fought off the Tigers (18-14, 8-11 CAA) for a 80-66 victory.

The College got off to a hot start, with senior guard Connor Burchfield banking home a layup for the first points of the game. Sophomore guard Matt Milon gave the Tribe a 5-0 lead on the next possession with a three-pointer from the wing. The Tigers fought back to get within one point, 7-6 with under 17 minutes to play in the opening half. The College was able to maintain a 9-6 lead at the first media timeout, due to early balanced scoring along with two assists by sophomore forward Justin Pierce and strong defense, holding the Tigers to just six points in the first four minutes.

After the timeout, the Tigers got back within one, but the Tribe responded with another 8-0 spurt to take a 17-8 lead with 13:30 remaining in the first half. Three of those eight points came from Milon, who hit his first two shots from behind the three-point line. Towson stopped the Tribe’s run at eight on a basket by guard Zane Martin, but Burchfield and Milon answered with baskets of their own to give the College a double-digit lead, 22-11. The College was 4-7 from deep in the first eight minutes and its defense had held the Tigers to just 1-6 from three. In the regular season, the Tribe led the nation in three-point shooting percentage at 43.5 percent.

“Our assistants made some terrific adjustments that really made a difference in this ballgame,” head coach Tony Shaver said.

After Towson took a timeout, they responded with two baskets, but the Tribe stayed hot at the offensive end. Sophomore forward Nathan Knight got into the action, hitting two free throws and then making a layup through contact and finishing the three-point play to give the College its largest lead thus far, 27-15. With Towson going cold again on the offensive end, the College capitalized by getting out in transition to add to its lead. A Burchfield finger roll and two free throws from Knight capped a 7-0 run for the College, giving the Tribe a commanding 31-15 lead with just over eight left in the first.

The Tigers were able to chip away and get back within 12, but the Tribe refused to relinquish its double-digit lead. Just seconds after returning to the game, Knight knocked down a short jumper with just over six minutes to play. Despite being a weakness during the regular season, the defense of the College continued to play well in the first half, coming up with back-to-back stops after Knight’s free throws. After Cohn hit three consecutive free throws, the College stretched its lead back to 15. The Tribe made its first 10 free throws of the game.

The Tigers scored the next five points, the last two coming off a turnover by Burchfield to whittle their deficit down to 10; the College maintained a comfortable lead, 36-26 with 3:34 to play in the opening 20 minutes. With the Tribe going without a field goal for nearly four minutes, the Tigers cut the deficit to single-digits, but another two free throws from Knight gave the College a 38-28 lead with two minutes to go in the half. The College finally ended a six-minute stretch without a field goal on Milon’s third triple of the game, giving the Tribe a 41-32 advantage at the half.

Despite no first half points from Pierce, who averaged 15.3 points per game in the regular season, the College was led by three players in double figures in the opening 20 minutes. Knight contributed a game-high 13 points and Milon and Cohn had 11 and 10, respectively. The Tigers were paced by forward Justin Gorham’s nine points. The Tribe held the Tigers to 32 first half points after giving up 99 and 96 points to them in the two regular season meetings.

“Their actions have really bothered us in our zone and our assistants made some terrific adjustments that really made a difference in this ballgame,” head coach Tony Shaver said.

The Tigers opened the scoring in the second half with 18:37 to play in the game on a ferocious dunk by Martin. His dunk cut the Tribe’s lead to seven, the closest the score had been since early in the first half. Guard Mike Morsell nailed a three on the next possession to bring the Tigers within four. At the other end, Pierce made one free throw to end the Tigers’ early second half run. Cohn made an acrobatic driving layup a couple minutes later for the College’s first field goal of the second half, giving the Tribe a 44-39 lead in an increasingly more competitive game.

As both teams began to pick up the pace, Burchfield and Milon both had open looks from three to stretch the lead back to eight, but neither shot fell for the Tribe. After a hot start, the College only made one of its next eight attempts from three-point range. However, Cohn worked the ball inside again and made a turnaround jumper to settle the Tribe and put the College up 46-39 with 14 minutes remaining. Knight followed suit, backing his defender down and earning two free throws. He hit both, making him a perfect 9-9 from the charity stripe and putting the Tribe up nine, matching its lead at half.

“Great win for our guys,” Shaver said, “Towson’s really good and they kind of had our number during the regular season.”

After making a run to start the second half, the Tigers went cold. Towson had four turnovers in the first seven minutes of the half, allowing the Tribe to regain a comfortable lead. Junior forward Paul Rowley hit the Tribe’s first three of the second half to give it a double-digit lead once again, 51-39. His three capped a 9-0 run for the College.

After the Tigers cut it to 10, Rowley scored again to push the lead back to 12 with just over 11 minutes remaining. His eight points marked the only eight points off the bench for the Tribe. Rowley continued to star for the Tribe, making his second three of the game just a few possessions later, giving the College some much needed offensive production with Knight on the bench. Knight promptly returned to the game and assisted on a Cohn three, giving the College a 13-point advantage. After a Tiger turnover on the next possession, Milon threw a long pass to a streaking Cohn who corralled the pass and laid it in stretching the lead to 61-46 with just over eight minutes left in the game.

After the timeout, Burchfield drained a three in transition, giving the Tribe its largest lead of the afternoon, 64-46. After the Tigers cut the deficit to three points, the College outscored the Tigers 22-7. The Tigers responded with five straight points, but Pierce answered for the College with his first field goal of the contest. He drained a deep three to push the lead back to 16 with under five minutes remaining.

After the Tigers hit two threes of their own, Burchfield and Cohn responded with back-to-back scores. Nevertheless, the Tigers continued to hang around, finishing a three-point play to cut the Tribe’s lead to 72-60 with 2:26 to play. However, the College hit its free throws down the stretch to hold off the Tigers and claim a 80-66 victory.

“Great win for our guys,” Shaver said, “Towson’s really good and they kind of had our number during the regular season.”

Cohn paced the College with 24 points, seven assists and six rebounds. His impact was particularly important when the Tigers got within three points as he answered Towson with two baskets at the other end.

“I think this year I’ve just let the game come to me and been aggressive when I need to be aggressive,” Cohn said.

“When we’re stopping the ball and getting rebounds, we’re hard to beat,” Knight said.

Knight was nearly perfect from the free throw line on the day and joined Cohn, Burchfield and Milon in double figures. Knight had 12 rebounds as well, giving him a double-double.

“When we’re stopping the ball and getting rebounds, we’re hard to beat,” Knight said.

Rowley’s eight points off the bench were huge for the Tribe and provided its only scoring by bench players. The Tigers had four players in double figures and were led by Martin’s 18 points in a losing effort.

The College will return to action tomorrow evening at 6 p.m. at North Charleston Coliseum against top-seeded Charleston in the CAA semifinals. The teams split their two meetings in the regular season, with each team protecting their respective home court.

“Our guys will approach this game with a lot of confidence,” Shaver said.

The winner of that game will play in the CAA championship on March 6 with the champion given an automatic bid to the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here