William and Mary (12-16, 8-8 CAA) celebrated senior night as the Tribe pulled out a messy win over UNCW (9-21, 5-12 CAA) at home Feb. 23.
The Tribe came out strong in the first half, taking an early lead with a crisp three from redshirt senior forward Paul Rowley, but despite the College outshooting the Seahawks 60 percent to 50 percent during the first ten minutes, the score remained close, as turnovers plagued both sides.
Both teams reckoned with sloppy offenses in the first half, and the Seahawks took a narrow 21-17 lead with eight minutes remaining in the half, until a layup from redshirt junior guard Matt Milon made it 21-19. The College’s ongoing struggle with free throws continued, as junior center Nathan Knight missed a free throw attempt that would have tied the game.
“We had a lot of things not go well tonight,” head coach Tony Shaver said. “Offensive execution has to improve. Some of the turnovers are a little bit mind-boggling, but in the end … what this team has learned to do is really defend.”
The Tribe failed to penetrate the Seahawks defense, mostly due to a complete lack of offensive drives. It opted instead for outside shots, and three-point attempts, which dropped in occasionally, but not often enough to earn and maintain a lead.
“I think that driving is important,” Shaver said. “I don’t mind threes … but we’re taking some bad threes right now, very quick threes.”
However, the College quickened the pace in the final minutes of the half, beginning with a feed from freshman guard Chase Audige to sophomore guard Luke Loewe which allowed the Tribe to take the lead for only the second time all game. An Audige drive straight through a clogged lane resulted in his only points of the half – putting the score at 26-22 and continuing what became an 11-0 scoring run for the College.
With three minutes to go before the half, the score had been tied six times, with both teams maintaining their longest lead for only four minutes. However, the Tribe broke this streak by staying ahead until the buzzer. Heading into the locker room, the College had outscored the Seahawks 22-10 in the paint in addition to earning twice as many points as the Seahawks from fast breaks.
The Tribe’s juniors carried the team to the halfway point, with Knight, Pierce, and Milon combining for 28 of the College’s 37 points. They continued to do so going into the second half, during which the Tribe held its lead despite failing to capitalize on Seahawks turnovers and wasting offensive opportunities with additional careless turnovers of its own.
Foul trouble forced Knight to take a seat with fourteen minutes left to play, and Rowley and freshman guard LJ Owens checked in, looking to improve the bench’s contributions, which until then had been limited.
Rowley grabbed a heavily contested offensive rebound off a missed three-pointer from Pierce, and drove in for a layup, bringing the score to 46-37, and ending an 8-0 scoring drought.
“[Rowley] really … brought a lot of energy for the team,” Milon said. “That’s just who he’s been all year. He’s a vocal leader, [an energetic] guy, and he did a great job today when Nate got in foul trouble.”
Milon drained a three and a turnaround jumper within a single minute to put the College up 52-40, but the momentum was halted when Knight earned his fourth personal foul and headed to the bench, once again putting in Rowley.
Despite big assists from Owens and Audige to feed Pierce and Milon, the three-pointers were falling for the Seahawks, and they crept back into the game.
“They got hot at the end … pretty quickly,” Milon said. “Thankfully, we had a lead and a cushion, so when they got hot it wasn’t like they exploded or took the lead. … We really got lucky there.”
Kaplan Arena came alive when Knight fouled out on a contested rebound, and the resulting technical foul on Shaver allowed the Seahawks to shoot free throws that cut the lead to 62-61 with three minutes remaining.
With a minute on the clock, the Tribe managed two huge defensive stops and Pierce followed up a layup with a long three-pointer to widen the lead once again, but a Seahawks layup put them right back in it at 67-63.
“I just know that I can always bring energy,” Pierce said. “I can do that whether my shots are falling or not. I can get others involved on the offensive end whether my shots are falling or not … today I was rewarded a little bit at the end by having a couple shots drop.”
The College stayed cool in the final seconds, and the upperclassmen stepped up without Knight’s direction. Milon calmly drained two free throws, Loewe capitalized on a defensive rebound to dunk, and the College had the game in the bag with a final score of 71-63.
Next week, the Tribe will embark on its final road trip of the regular season, confronting first Towson and then James Madison Feb. 28 and Mar. 2 respectively.