Men’s basketball: Tribe drops lead to Delaware in 58-56 setback

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Courtesy image / TRIBE ATHLETICS

William and Mary bounced back from a 4-8 finish in non-conference play by winning back-to-back Colonial Athletic Association contests at home last weekend against James Madison and Towson. While the Tribe has hit its stride with four wins in its last five games, Delaware has had an up-and-down start to CAA play. The Blue Hens were routed by Hofstra 91-46 after trailing by 30 at halftime, but bounced back to beat Northeastern, the CAA preseason favorite, in double overtime.

Jan. 3, the College traveled to Delaware for its first conference road game of the season. The Tribe struggled away from Kaplan Arena during its non-conference slate, accumulating a record of just 1-6. The College’s struggles on the road continued against the Blue Hens (10-6, 2-1 CAA), as the Tribe (6-9, 2-1 CAA) lost a double-digit lead and faltered at the free throw line down the stretch, en route to a 58-56 setback.

The Blue Hens opened up scoring with a three-pointer from the wing by guard Ryan Allen, but the College answered back with five in a row to establish a 5-3 lead. Freshman guard Chase Audige, the reigning CAA Rookie of the Week, capped the run with a layup for his first points of the evening. Redshirt junior guard Matt Milon added two threes in the first five minutes. The Blue Hens were able to draw even at 5-5, before the Tribe raced out to a double-digit lead on the heels of a 10-0 run that forced the Blue Hens to call a timeout, trailing 15-5 with 12:32 left in the opening half. The College continued to build on the lead after the timeout, with junior guard Nathan Knight becoming the fifth player to score during the 12-0 spurt. The Blue Hens were able to end their scoreless drought with a free throw, but still mustered just six points in the opening 10 minutes en route to a 17-6 deficit.

However, the College struggled to score with Audige and redshirt senior Paul Rowley struggling from three-point range and Knight on the bench with two fouls. The Blue Hens closed the gap to just six points, but Milon continued his strong first half with two free throws to give the College a 19-11 edge going into the under-eight timeout. With Allen in foul trouble, the Blue Hens struggled to score, posting just 11 points in the first 14 minutes. Milon continued to help the Tribe take advantage of the Blue Hens’ struggles, making a deep three, his third of the evening, and assisting on a breakaway layup for Audige to push the College’s lead back to 12. The Blue Hens did receive a boost from forward Eric Carter, who had six-straight points for the Blue Hens, with Rowley and Knight on the bench for the Tribe. Behind Carter, the Blue Hens cut the deficit to six at one point, but the College still led 28-21 at halftime.

After a scoreless first half, junior forward Justin Pierce scored on the Tribe’s first possession of the second half. Audige finally connected from three on the next possession to tie the College’s largest lead of the first half at 12 points, 33-21. Once again, the Blue Hens were able to stop the run, scoring seven of the next nine points. After the under-16 timeout, the Blue Hens were able to get even closer. Guard Kevin Anderson drained a three to pull within one possession, 37-34. Milon was able to respond for the College, nailing his fourth triple of the game to make the score 40-34 with less than 14 minutes left in the game. Nevertheless, the Blue Hens racked up another five-consecutive points and narrowed the margin to one, the closest it had been since early in the first half.

After the timeout, Milon had the answer again with another three-pointer to stop the bleeding, and the Tribe backed it up with a stop on the defensive end. The Blue Hens were able to get within one again, but Knight stepped up for the Tribe for four-straight points, despite his third foul during the same stretch. The College had led since it was 3-3 early in the first half, but the Blue Hens were finally able to get over the hump and take the lead on a three by guard Darian Bryant, 51-49, with just over five minutes remaining.

The College was unable to answer, with two-straight scoreless possessions. The Blue Hens stretched the lead to four with Knight on the bench in foul trouble. Rowley cut the deficit in half with two free throws, but Audige could not take advantage of a one-and-one and the Blue Hens clung to a 53-51 lead at the under-four timeout. Pierce also missed a free throw with 1:59 to play, allowing the Blue Hens to keep a one-point lead, 53-52, and Audige missed a potential go-ahead three on the next possession. Free throw shooting let the Tribe down in the waning seconds, with Knight missing a pair, allowing the Blue Hens to grab a two-possession advantage with 43 seconds remaining. Despite the missed free throws, the Tribe still had two shots to win the game on the final possession, but both were well off the mark, and the Blue Hens claimed a 58-56 comeback win.

The Blue Hens were led by a balanced scoring attack with four players in double-figures. They were led by Carter’s 12 points and 13 rebounds. The Blue Hens will look to stretch their winning streak to three when they host Elon Saturday. Milon led the Tribe in the loss with 19 points and five rebounds. Pierce was the leading rebounder for the College with seven boards, but only three points. The Tribe will look to bounce back when it travels to Drexel Saturday. Last season, the College and the Dragons split the season series with each team winning at home.