After a quick weekend road trip, William and Mary returned home to face Drexel in a Colonial Athletic Association contest. Jan. 31, the Tribe (8-14, 4-6 CAA) put an end to a five-game losing streak in an electrifying 75-69 victory against the Dragons (10-13, 4-6 CAA).
The College started off slowly, led by junior center Nathan Knight, who moved the ball well in the first half. Despite Knight’s efforts, the Tribe failed to penetrate Drexel’s defense and missed out on points in the paint early on in the game.
Freshman guard Chase Audige’s aggressive defense thwarted the Dragons’ attempts to score inside and kept the Tribe within striking distance of the lead for most of the half. However, Audige could only hold off the Dragons for so long, and they soon began to push the pace, making twelve of fourteen field goal attempts in a three-and-a-half-minute stretch.
As the first half wound down, the Tribe failed to match the Dragons’ intensity, missing opportunities to take the ball to the basket and opting instead for outside jumpers. Though the College shot 50 percent from the three-point line, its failure to take the ball inside led to a highly uneven point distribution and low scoring all around. At the end of the first half, with Drexel leading 39-31, two Dragons players had put up double-digit scoring and not a single player from the Tribe could say the same.
“We have a tendency to go away from the post more than we should,” head coach Tony Shaver said. “We’ve got to continue to get the ball inside.”
The second half saw a marked shift in momentum, with Audige scoring off a steal that brought the Tribe within one point of the Dragons. Seconds later, a huge block by Knight gave the Tribe the ball once again, and the offense finally began showing signs of life.
Three successful drives to the basket in a minute and a half gave the College the lead for the first time in the half, and the Tribe was off to the races offensively. Junior guard Justin Pierce powered through the Dragons’ defense to dunk twice, and Audige and freshman guard L.J. Owens scored points off fast breaks, as the College increased its lead to 48-43.
The Tribe showed no signs of letting up and capitalized on two successive defensive steals to score, pushing the lead to nine before the Dragons called a timeout with 9:40 left. Though the brief pause succeeded in slowing the pace incrementally, the College continued to rebound well, led by Knight, who grabbed fifteen boards.
“[Shaver] can make the changes he needs to make, but it’s up to us to go out there and execute,” Knight said. “The game’s not always gonna go your way … but just playing with that energy and not getting down on yourself … is something that we’re really preaching about.”
The final minutes were tight. Defensive slip-ups on the Tribe’s part allowed the Dragons to hit two wide open three-pointers and eventually take a 65-64 lead at the under-four media timeout, but Knight’s defense combined with a long three-pointer by Pierce and four key free-throws from Owens secured the game for the College.
The Tribe managed to hang onto the lead by its fingertips, but Audige acknowledged that it should never have gotten that close.
“That’s something we have to work on as a team,” Audige said. “We’ve been in that situation many times throughout the season. … Let’s just be consistent, let’s get good shots … let’s try to get it back, and we did.”
Overall, it was Audige who made the difference in the game, injecting energy into a team desperately needing it. He ended the night with seventeen points, eight rebounds, and four steals.
“He’s probably one of the best defenders I’ve played with,” Knight said. “He’s just got a spirit about him, he’s just got an edge about him that he brings to practice every day and it’s contagious.”
Looking ahead, the Tribe will take on Delaware at home Feb. 2, and Shaver hopes his players will carry the passion they displayed in the second half onto the court against Delaware. The game has a chance to be a turning point for the College.
“I am proud of how we stood our ground.” Shaver said. “This team has not done that at times this year, and that was a really big moment for us.”