Men’s basketball: Tribe remains undefeated in CAA with win over Towson, 71-61

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Courtesy image / TRIBE ATHLETICS

After a 2-7 start to the season, William and Mary picked up its fourth win in the last five contests with a wire-to-wire 71-61 victory over Towson. Both teams struggled in non-conference play, but each won their Colonial Athletic Association openers Friday night. The Tribe started slowly against James Madison, but bounced back and used three-point shooting and zone defense to edge out the Dukes, 76-71 at Kaplan Arena. Meanwhile, the Tigers coasted to a 77-60 win on the road against Elon.

Dec. 30, the College (6-8, 2-0 CAA) jumped out to a 7-0 lead and held off the surging Tigers (5-9, 1-1 CAA) down the stretch to remain undefeated in CAA play.

In the first 91 seconds, the Tribe’s offense set the tone, ripping off seven-straight points. Freshman guard Chase Audige capped off the run with a three-pointer to give the College an early 7-0 advantage. However, the Tigers fought back and cut the deficit to two points on multiple occasions early in the second half. The Tigers closed the gap to 9-7 on a layup through contact and a free throw by forward Dennis Tunstall. In both instances, the Tribe had the answer, pushing its advantage back to seven points.

After the Tigers made the score 14-12, LJ Owens hit a three to reestablish the seven-point lead, 19-12, at the 13:11 mark. Owens only took three shots all day, making two of them, to finish with six points. The defining run of the first half occurred over the course of four minutes late in the half. Leading 24-20, the College went on a 10-0 run, punctuated by back-to-back threes courtesy of junior forward Justin Pierce with just over two minutes left in the half. Pierce was the Tribe’s leading scorer at halftime with 12 points. The Tigers finished the half with four-straight points, but the College maintained a double-digit lead, 34-24 at halftime. The pace was slower than what the high-powered Tribe offense was accustomed to, but it was effective in the first half, shooting 50 percent from the floor. On the other hand, the Tigers struggled on offense, going 0-9 from three and shooting under 33 percent overall.

In the second half, the Tigers came to life on offense. Redshirt junior Matt Milon opened the second half scoring, but the Tigers answered with a 7-0 scoring run. Tunstall made another layup to bring the Tigers within six, before Audige hit another big triple to stop the bleeding and give the Tribe a 40-31 lead with under 17 minutes remaining. With the margin still within single-digits, the pace of the game slowed again, and after a Towson bucket with 12:07 to play, the teams combined for just 10 points over the next five minutes. The Tribe failed to take advantage of the Tigers’ offensive struggles and could not extend its lead during this stretch. Instead, the Tigers cut the deficit to two points for the first time since early in the first half. With over seven minutes to play, forward Alex Thomas scored to make the score 52-50.

A jumper by junior forward Nathan Knight was wedged in between threes by Milon and Audige, allowing the Tribe to cling to a six-point lead with five minutes to go. The College was able to weather the storm and dominated in the last five minutes, matching its largest lead of 14 on a breakaway dunk by Audige with 46 seconds left. The College pushed its CAA record to 2-0 with the 71-61 win.

The Tigers had three players in double figures and Tunstall just missed out on a double-double with nine points and 10 boards. The Tribe was led by four strong offensive performers, all in double-figures for the second consecutive game. Milon stepped up to lead the College in scoring with 19 points in 27 minutes of action. Pierce added 18 and led the Tribe with six rebounds. Audige and Knight each had 13 points and three rebounds.

The College will play its first road conference game of the season Thursday against Delaware. Last season, the Tribe swept Delaware, with both wins coming by at least 17 points. However, the College is 1-6 on the road this season. The Tribe will cap off its week with a game at Drexel Saturday afternoon.