Men’s basketball: Comeback attempt falls short in 93-88 loss to UNCW

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Courtesy image / TRIBE ATHLETICS

Jan. 24, William and Mary fell behind early against North Carolina-Wilmington and could not recover, despite a last-minute comeback attempt, losing 93-88 in the Colonial Athletic Association matchup. Freshman guard Chase Audige scored a career-high 24 points and junior forward Nathan Knight notched a double-double for the College, but the Seahawks, led by guard Kai Toews and forward Devontae Cacok, controlled the game. UNCW led by as much as 17 late in the second half. Though junior guard Matt Milon hit three three-pointers in the final 21 seconds to cut the advantage to one possession, the effort was too little, too late as the College fell to its fourth straight loss.

“The one positive for us is that we didn’t quit,” head coach Tony Shaver said. “We battled hard down the stretch, and we had young guys leading us. … But, you know, we lost the ball game in the first 20 minutes.”

Just like the Tribe’s previous game against Elon, Audige didn’t wait long to make an impact on the game. He scored the first seven points of the contest for the College, propelling it to an early lead. After a jumper by sophomore guard Luke Loewe, the Tribe held a 9-3 lead just over three minutes into the first half. That six-point advantage was the largest it would have all game.

A 16-3 run by the Seahawks quickly claimed the lead for UNCW, an edge they would hold for the rest of the game. Knight stopped the spurt with the Tribe’s first field goal in more than five minutes to make it 19-14 and later added a three, but the College again went through an extended scoring drought. Audige would break it with 5:23 to play with a jumper to push the score to 26-19.

UNCW extended the margin back out to 10 as Toews finished a three-point play the old-fashioned way, but a quick 4-0 run cut it to 31-25 at the under-four media timeout thanks to an Audige free throw. The Seahawks outscored the Tribe by five down the stretch, capped off by a Cacok jumper over Knight that cemented the halftime score of 39-28.

“Loose balls, we got zero of them in the first half,” Shaver said. “Frankly, that’s not William and Mary basketball. It’s just not. And we have to find a way to get that back.”

The Seahawks extended the lead out to 16 on a Cacok basket early in the second half. For every Tribe run, UNCW had an answer. With 14 minutes and 54 seconds left, junior forward Justin Pierce nailed a three that slashed the advantage to eight points, but Toews replied moments later with a bucket, followed shortly by an assist to push it back out to 12. With just over 12 minutes to play, a trey by freshman guard LJ Owens and three points from Knight got the Tribe within six, but guard Ty Gadsden put seven-straight points on the board in 1:06 to strengthen the Seahawks’ lead.

With six minutes and 20 seconds left in the game, guard Jay Estime knocked down two free throws to push UNCW’s advantage to the biggest it was all game, 75-58. The Tribe did not meaningfully cut into it until there was less than a minute on the clock. Down 90-79, Milon hit a three with 21 seconds to play. After a made Seahawk free throw, Milon sank another from deep with 13 seconds left. Following a Tribe timeout, UNCW turned the ball over and Milon made a third three-pointer in 16 seconds, getting the College within three at 91-88. However, with just under five seconds left, there was not enough time for the Tribe, as Gadsden made two free throws to seal the deal.

“We have to play away [games] for 40 minutes, that’s all I know,” Shaver said. “We need to play with that kind of energy and passion for 40 minutes. This team has got to find that swagger again. I told them, the team that’s won the most CAA games over the past five years is William and Mary, but we’re not playing like that right now.”

The Tribe will travel down the Carolina coast to take on Charleston Saturday afternoon. It will be the first contest between the two teams since the Cougars knocked the College out of the CAA tournament last season. Tip-off will be at 4 p.m.