Men’s Basketball: Tribe downs third-ranked Charleston 86-84

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Jamie Holy / The Flat Hat

Looking to move up in Colonial Athletic Association play before the postseason, William and Mary (11-16, 7-8 CAA) bagged a one-point victory against third-ranked Charleston (21-8, 20-6 CAA) at home Feb. 21

Redshirt junior guard Matt Milon drained a three right off the bat, and the pace only accelerated from there. Milon led the Tribe’s offense, playing with an intensity not seen in his most recent outings – he put up eleven points in the first ten minutes alone.

Despite Milon’s best efforts, the rest of the offense was relatively quiet. Junior center Nathan Knight had some good looks, as well as being integral to the College’s effort to prevent the Cougars from scoring inside, but as for the rest of the team, it struggled to take the ball to the hoop.

Offensive struggles aside, the College led the Cougars for most of the first half, but eventually, Tribe turnovers and a quiet bench began to show on the scoreboard. The Cougars bench outscored the College’s by six points and scored off every single turnover committed by the Tribe.

The Cougars’ offense outpaced the Tribe’s defense, earning nine points off fast breaks, compared to none for the College. However, the Tribe found its stride as the first half wound down, chipping steadily away at the lead. Freshman guard Chase Audige contributed only eight points for the whole game, but most of them came towards the end of the first half and helped cut the lead from fifteen to eight.

“[Audige] is struggling offensively a little bit,” head coach Tony Shaver said. “He’s trying to do too much. When Chase was really good for us, it was in the flow of the offense. Right now, he’s trying to break things off a little too much, but … you live with some of that because … I love what he does for our team in terms of toughness, and confidence, and aggressiveness.”

Meanwhile, the Tribe had turned the tide when the game could have slipped away.

“It can go either way with a team like Charleston,” Knight said. “It’s either you buckle down and you get stops, and you’re able to gain a little momentum going into the half, or when a team who can score at that high a clip … it can be out of reach before you know it.”

Coming out of the locker room at halftime with a score of 42-34, Knight wasted no time in muscling his way through the paint to score, but the Cougars answered with a bucket of their own to hold the same eight-point margin.

A three from Pierce, whose notched five assists that created opportunities for Audige and Knight, put the Tribe within striking distance. Milon followed it up with yet another trey that cut the lead to 46-42 in favor of the Cougars.

The Tribe missed some crucial opportunities in the middle of the second half, and a turnover from redshirt senior forward Paul Rowley as well as a squandered chance for a wide-open dunk from Audige allowed the Cougars to maintain the lead, despite low scoring.

However, Rowley atoned for his turnover with a crucial steal, which enabled Milon to score a layup, and seconds later Knight blocked a shot to keep the momentum going for the College.

Seconds later, an attempt to prevent a turnover sent Knight hurtling into the stands with a crash. As he hit the floor, a silence fell over Kaplan Arena, as if the Tribe could see its postseason hopes slipping away. Knight shook it off, and after limping off the court, continued to dominate in the paint.

“Coach Shaver came and talked to me at halftime and told me that in order for us to play well I needed to be a little bit more aggressive,” Knight said. “I just capitalized when I could. … My teammates got me the ball at the right time, and I was able to put the ball in the hole.”

Pierce and Milon continued to hit threes and fadeaway jumpers that brought the College closer to the Cougars inch by inch, and two crucial fast breaks ended in a layup by sophomore guard Luke Loewe and a mammoth dunk from Knight that electrified the crowd and brought the Tribe within one point of the Cougars on two separate occasions.

With just under eight minutes to play, the College was behind 58-57, and seconds after a timeout another Milon layup gave the Tribe the lead for the first time in the second half.

Shortly after that, with the score tied at 53-53 and five and a half minutes left on the clock, Knight accrued his fourth personal foul and had to take a seat. The College continued to hover one or two points away from the Cougars until Rowley, who had come in for Knight, drove through a very clogged lane to deposit a layup that gave the Tribe the lead. Seconds later, the Cougars retaliated to bring the score to 69-68.

Knight returned to the game with just under three minutes to go, was fouled, and made one of two free throws to re-tie the score at 69, but the Cougars sank a free throw of their own, to make it 70-69.

The final minute saw still more free throws, of which Knight hit one and the Cougars made two, bringing the score to 72-70 with thirty seconds left. Milon sunk two more free throws to tie things up, and a defensive rebound from Knight sent the game into overtime.

In overtime, the Tribe’s defense was lights out. With two minutes left, the Cougars had only scored once, and Milon and Knight had combined to put six points on the board for the College.

After a timeout, the Cougars scored off a layup, but Milon hit a flawless three-pointer, and the Cougars proceeded to turn the ball over before calling yet another timeout in an attempt to regroup.

Pierce hit one of two free throws, but the Cougars nailed a three to make it 82-79.

“We’d get up five, and then they’d make a contested three,” Milon said. “It’s just something you have to expect.”

As Knight stepped up to shoot take his free throws, tension filled Kaplan Arena. He heaved a deep breath and drained both shots, giving the Tribe a three-point lead.

A layup put the Cougars back in it, and Pierce’s second foul of the game sent them to the line with the chance to tie things up. They couldn’t follow through however, and Knight hit yet another free throw despite immense pressure, as the College pulled out a victory 86-84.

“We made it hard on ourselves at times, but … just kept battling,” Shaver said.

Overall, although free throws nearly cost the College the game, the Tribe’s juniors were responsible for bagging the win.

“We work on free throws every day,” Milon said. “It’s something we really need to get better at, but I think we just stuck with it.”

Despite a slow start, Knight notched his third straight 30-point game, and Milon put 27 points on the board for the College. While Pierce’s contribution was only eight points, his nine assists and four steals kept the Tribe from hitting a lull in the final quarter.

“I thought [Pierce] was great,” Shaver said.  “Justin and Matt and Nate have to play for us to be successful, and they’re playing for us … you don’t have to score thirty to be good, you’ve got to contribute to this team.”

Looking ahead, the College took on North Carolina-Wilmington at home Feb. 23.