William and Mary opened Colonial Athletic Association play Dec. 28 with a game against in-state rival James Madison. The College was coming off of a 32-point setback to fifth-ranked Virginia on the road to end non-conference play with just four victories. However, the Tribe had the chance to start its CAA slate with two-straight games at Kaplan Arena against the Dukes and Towson. Meanwhile, the Dukes started the season well with four consecutive wins, but have lost momentum over their last nine games, losing six of those to barely stay above .500. The Dukes start their conference schedule against the Tribe on a two-game losing streak and looking to recapture their early season success.
Dec. 28, the College (5-8, 1-0 CAA) overcame an early double-digit deficit and poor free throw shooting to hold off the Dukes (7-7, 0-1 CAA) for a 79-74 victory on the strength of its zone defense and three-point shooting.
The Dukes jumped out to a quick start, taking advantage of the vulnerable Tribe defense with back-to-back buckets on their first two possessions. Junior forward Nathan Knight picked up where he left off last Saturday against Virginia with a dunk to cut the Dukes lead in half, 4-2 after 90 seconds of play. He had four points and an assist in the first five minutes of action. The College, which led the nation in three-point shooting last season, struggled from behind the arc in non-conference play, but Milon drained an early three to pull the Tribe within one, 6-5. Out of the first media timeout, the Dukes took advantage of opportunities at the free throw line to extend their lead to seven points, 19-12 at the 13-minute mark. The College finally earned a couple defensive stops after the under-12 media timeout and junior guard Justin Pierce slammed home a dunk in transition to cut the deficit to 22-17 just over midway through the first half. Nevertheless, the College squandered some opportunities with turnovers on the offensive end and the Dukes claimed a double-digit lead with eight minutes remaining in the half on a three-pointer by guard Matt Lewis. Lewis had a game-high nine points after 12 minutes of action.
With seven minutes to go, Pierce finally got on the board with a three from the corner, then started the break and set up freshman Chase Audige for a layup to bring the score to 29-22. Pierce then forced a second-consecutive turnover and Audige found him in transition for a dunk to cut the deficit to five with 5:47 to play in the half. The Pierce’s dunk gave the Tribe a 7-0 scoring run, forcing the Dukes to call a timeout. Nevertheless, the College kept the momentum and stretched the run to 29-29 to tie the game with just over four minutes left in the first half on Milon’s second three of the evening off of a bounce pass from sophomore guard Luke Loewe. The run continued with an Audige triple to give the College its first lead of the evening, 32-29, before the Dukes quickly stopped the bleeding and tied the game at 32. The Dukes ultimately went on a 7-0 scoring spurt of their own before Loewe and Pierce responded to put the Tribe back on top at halftime, 37-36.
The Dukes used the free throw line to even the score early in the second half after a late whistle on Knight. The Tribe was scoreless on its first two possessions but used an offensive rebound to score its first points of the second half. Loewe made a layup through the contact but failed to complete the three-point play at the charity stripe. However, the College shot dreadfully at the start of the half, making just one of its first ten shots, allowing the Dukes to reclaim a 43-39 advantage. Redshirt senior Paul Rowley got the College back on track with a three-pointer off the dribble before the under-16 media timeout. The Dukes made three treys after the timeout to take their largest lead of the second half, 52-46. Pierce made a layup and two threes to give him 18 points and even the score at 54 as the clock ticked under 11 minutes remaining.
After the media timeout, the Tribe stayed hot and extended its scoring run to 11-2 to claim a 57-54 lead on an Audige three-pointer. The College could not create any breathing room despite five three-pointers in about five minutes, as the Dukes trailed by just five with eight minutes to go. This allowed the Dukes to hit back-to-back threes after the under-eight timeout, with Lewis draining the second three to push the Dukes back in front, 66-65. With both teams relying heavily on the three-pointers in the second half, Milon answered back with a three to give the College a 68-66 edge with over five minutes to play in the contest.
The College clung to a 71-70 advantage at the last media timeout with 3:46 remaining in a game that seemed destined to go down to the wire. After both teams traded scoreless possessions, Pierce came up with another steal and transition layup to extend the lead to three points. The Dukes took a three in an attempt to tie the score once again, but it was off target and Knight came up with a rebound and was fouled at the other end. However, his struggles at the line continued as he came up empty, and the Tribe’s lead remained at three. But the College’s zone defense continued to frustrate the Dukes and Audige came up with a huge layup off of a pass from Pierce to bump the lead to five with under 90 seconds to play.
The Dukes refused to go quietly and Lewis knocked down two free throws to make it a one possession game with less than 50 seconds remaining. The Dukes fouled Loewe to extend the game and he continued the Tribe’s struggles at the line by missing the front end of the one-and-one. Meanwhile, the Dukes continued to cash in at the line with Lewis knocking down a pair to make it 75-74 with 29 seconds remaining. Knight hit two clutch free throws before the defense came up big, and freshman guard LJ Owens capped off the 79-74 win with a transition dunk.
In the loss, the Dukes were led by Lewis’ game-high 26 points, including 9-9 from the free throw line. Guard Stuckey Mosley added 16 points and seven rebounds. The College was led by three players with at least 17 points. Knight helped to seal the game with two late free throws giving him 17 points and eight rebounds. Pierce shook off a slow start to finish as the Tribe’s leading scorer with 20 points to go with 10 boards. Finally, Audige had 19 points on just 11 shots and added four assists, including the assist on Owens’ victory-clinching dunk.
The College will look to mimic its 5-0 start in conference play from last season with another home matchup Sunday against Towson, a team that was picked last in the CAA preseason poll. A victory over the Tigers would give the College a 2-0 start in the CAA and a two-game winning streak for the second time this season.