In this weekend’s Colonial Athletic Association matchup, William and Mary (9-14, 5-6 CAA) blew past Delaware (14-10, 6-5 CAA) in a runaway victory at home Feb. 2, 84-63.
The first few minutes saw the College commit a series of easy errors, early fouls and offensive turnovers as the Tribe worked through some game-day jitters in front of a packed Kaplan Arena. Delaware scored six points off Tribe turnovers in the first five minutes alone.
The College found its stride midway through the first half, led by freshman center Mehkel Harvey and freshman guard L.J. Owens, who took turns driving to the basket to cut the Blue Hens’ lead to two with just under eleven minutes left in the half.
The Tribe’s offense turned up the intensity when freshman Chase Audige and junior Nathan Knight returned to the game after having gotten into early foul trouble. Audige proceeded to hit three three-pointers in just over a minute to give the College a lead at 31-23.
The pace increased markedly after that, and the Tribe continued to outscore the Blue Hens in fast breaks. However, it was the College’s defense that maintained the lead, led once again by Audige, who contributed four of the 16 defensive boards the Tribe grabbed in the first half.
“Chase gives us another level defensively,” head coach Tony Shaver said. “He makes everybody better, quite honestly.”
The Tribe’s veterans were noticeably quiet early in the game. Knight played just six minutes in the first half of the game and scored only once. While sophomore guard Luke Loewe and redshirt junior guard Matt Milon were on the court for a substantial chunk of the first half, they put up just three points combined.
At the half, the College led the Blue Hens 37-32, owing almost entirely to points scored by the bench. Junior forward Justin Pierce continued to dominate offensively well into the second half, alternating between shallow jumpers and layups with great success.
Pierce wasn’t the only asset to come off the bench, having plenty of support from Harvey and Owens. They nabbed key rebounds and put points on the board, but Owens’ most important contribution was his passing. He created much-needed space on the floor, allowing Pierce and Audige a variety of shot opportunities.
“[Harvey, Owens, and Audige] have given us a great lift all year long,” Shaver said. “They are still freshman, but in a sense, they’ve gotten a lot of minutes, so we treat them differently than freshman. Really, really proud of what they’re doing … and have great confidence in putting them in in key situations.”
Milon and Knight got back in the game with 12 minutes to go, and the College began to pull away, widening an already substantial lead to 20 points. Despite taking an elbow to the face from Blue Hen’s forward Collin Gross, who was promptly ejected, Knight continued to dominate, making up for a sluggish first half. He scored 15 points in as many minutes as the game wound to a close.
“I think the thing that’s so exciting is that our energy was consistent today,” Shaver said. “Our defensive effort was consistent today. … We still have a long way to go offensively, but defense will give you a chance to win every game.”
Overall, it was the bench that won the game for the College, though its starters’ comeback performance lengthened the lead quite a bit, making the final score 84-63.
In the coming days, the Tribe will hit the road to take on the top two teams in the CAA, going head-to-head with Northeastern Feb. 7 and Hofstra Feb 9.