Looking to break a season-long losing streak, William and Mary traveled to College of Charleston Saturday for a Colonial Athletic Association matchup. Though the short-handed Tribe (7-14, 3-6 CAA) hung in the game for 35 minutes, guard Grant Riller and the Cougars (16-6, 5-4 CAA) finally wore it down, prevailing 74-59 and extending the College’s string of losses to five-straight.
“I think our kids competed very hard today,” head coach Tony Shaver said to Tribe Athletics. “I’m proud of that. I think in some ways, we rediscovered our team today. I know that may seem silly to say with a 15-point loss on the road, but we competed really hard. … I feel one thousand times better about our club today than I did 48 hours ago.”
The Tribe was forced to play a six-man rotation with two key bench players out in senior forward Paul Rowley and freshman guard Thornton Scott. While junior forward Justin Pierce came off the bench for just the second time this season, he led the Tribe in scoring with 18 points. Pierce, junior forward Nathan Knight and junior guard Matt Milon combined for 46 of the College’s 59 points in the game.
“I was really proud of Justin tonight,” Shaver said to Tribe Athletics. “I didn’t start him tonight, but he handled it like a true warrior. I’ve used this word already, rediscover, but I think we maybe rediscovered Justin Pierce a little tonight.”
The Tribe jumped out to a 17-12 lead behind six early points from freshman guard Chase Audige and five from Milon. However, a 10-2 run by Charleston quickly put them back in the driver’s seat.
“I think the biggest thing we have to do is find consistency for forty minutes,” Shaver said to Tribe Athletics. “We had a 17-12 lead early in that ballgame, and then we get two stops and take two really bad shots, then all of a sudden it’s a tie ballgame. We have got to learn to handle prosperity a little bit. It’s a young team, but we have to find some consistency as well.”
With just over two minutes left in the first half, Knight tied the game at 26 on an open layup. However, Riller gave the Cougars a two-possession lead heading into the locker rooms, 33-28.
Out of the half, the Tribe quickly tied the game. A Milon three, followed by a Knight dunk and a backdoor layup by sophomore guard Luke Loewe knotted things up at 35, with 16:16 to play. The College did not take the lead until nearly four minutes later, when Knight put the Tribe ahead 44-42.
That would be the last lead of the contest for the College, as Charleston quickly put up 10-straight points, highlighted by Riller’s three-pointer to increase the Cougars’ lead to eight. The Tribe would not go away easily, though, as a 4-0 run kept the team within striking distance.
Again, Charleston responded, attempting to put the game away. Riller hit a contested jumper before forward Jarrell Brantley knocked home a three to increase the edge to 57-48, the Cougars’ largest of the game. But again, the Tribe clawed back, outscoring Charleston 9-5 over the next three-plus minutes. With five minutes left in the game, Knight finished a layup and was fouled by Riller. Knight made the free throw, cutting the deficit to 62-57.
That would be as close as the Tribe got. While the College had chances to cut even further into the lead, it missed its next five shots and did not make a field goal for the rest of the game. Eight Riller points in a row put the game away for the Cougars in a 74-59 conference win.
The Tribe will return home for two games this week. Thursday night, the College welcomes Drexel to Williamsburg for a rematch of the Tribe’s 84-66 road victory earlier this year. Saturday, the Tribe takes on Delaware in the annual Gold Rush game at Kaplan Arena. It looks to avenge its 58-56 loss at the Blue Hens Jan. 3.
“It’s going to be good to be home,” Shaver said to Tribe Athletics. “You know, everybody in this league is good. We have to take advantage of this home court, we really do. We have got to get these wins, it’s just a simple fact. We have got to get them and build some momentum through the end of January into February.”