William and Mary finished its non-conference home schedule Dec. 16 with a matchup against William Peace, a Division III team from North Carolina. After starting the season 2-7, the Tribe picked up a close victory at Hampton last weekend to get back on track with non-conference play winding down. Meanwhile, the Pacers entered Sunday’s matchup with a 4-4 record. The Pacers opened their season with another Division I opponent from the Colonial Athletic Association, North Carolina-Wilmington. The Pacers lost 80-52 to the Seahawks in the season-opener.
Sunday, the College (4-7, 0-0 CAA) struggled defensively, but used a strong offensive effort and a quick start in the second half to beat the Pacers (4-5, 2-1 USA South), 106-89.
The Pacers struck first with just over 19 minutes to play in the first half, as guard Camden Ferguson drained a three from the wing. However, the early lead was short lived with redshirt junior guard Matt Milon answering with a triple of his own on the ensuing possession. Ferguson gave the Pacers a 6-5 lead with his second three in early going. This was the Pacers’ last lead of the afternoon, as the College scored the next nine points in under 90 seconds. Despite the College’s decided height advantage over the Pacers, William Peace crept within four points, 16-12, with 13 minutes left in the opening half after an offensive rebound, putback and a free throw by forward Trey Bryant. The College bounced back and grabbed its first double-digit lead of the game, 25-15, after a steal and two free throws by junior forward Justin Pierce at the 10:23 mark of the first half.
The Pacers prevented the Tribe from stretching the lead much farther, thus allowing them to stay in the game, but the College still maintained a double-digit lead, 31-20, at the under-eight media timeout. The Pacers were able to remain within striking distance due to a strong effort behind the three-point line; 21 of their first 27 points came off of threes.
“They shoot 32 threes a game and that was our number one focus coming into the ballgame,” head coach Tony Shaver said. “And at halftime we gave up nine out of 18 threes … disappointed in that for sure.”
However, a balanced scoring effort for the Tribe allowed it to enjoy a 39-27 advantage with five minutes to go until the break. The Pacers were able to cut the deficit to nine on multiple occasions in the last five minutes of the half, but the College’s 24 to 17 advantage on the glass and 22 points in the paint powered it to a 55-46 lead at halftime. Junior forward Nathan Knight, who was honored before the game for reaching 1,000 career points, led the Tribe with 17 points and 11 rebounds, giving him a double-double by halftime.
Similar to the first half, the Pacers opened the scoring to start the half, bringing them within seven of the Tribe. Nevertheless, the College responded with four consecutive points to regain a double-digit lead. After the Pacers made two free throws, the Tribe started its second scoring run of at least nine to jump out to its largest lead of the evening, 69-50 at the under-16 media timeout.
“The first ten minutes we really locked in defensively,” Shaver said. “We really did it the right way.”
The College continued to build on its lead after the timeout, seizing its first 20-point edge of the night on six straight points by freshman guard Chase Audige. His dunk in transition with just over 12:30 to play gave the College a 76-54 lead. With three Pacers fouling out before the midway point of the second half, the Tribe was able to cruise to a 106-89 victory. The College was able to extend its lead with multiple starters sitting out of the game to give playing time to bench players in the blowout.
The Pacers struggled with foul trouble but were led by forward Tyson Sellers’ 18 points. Meanwhile, the Tribe was led to victory by Knight’s 26 points and 14 rebounds. The College will wrap up its non-conference schedule next Saturday when it travels to Charlottesville to take on fifth-ranked Virginia. The Cavaliers are currently undefeated, and their stifling defense will challenge the Tribe’s high-powered offense in its last game before CAA play starts Dec. 28 against James Madison.
“The important thing is to get better and sometimes we’re not getting better,” Shaver said. “If we want to be a good CAA team, we really have to improve.”