Despite a second-half push that cut an 11-point deficit to just two, William and Mary dropped a matchup with Towson in front of a raucous Kaplan Arena crowd Saturday, 70-58. The Tigers (12-9, 6-3 CAA) put together a 12-2 run over the final five minutes of the game to secure the wire-to-wire win, while the Tribe (15-7, 7-2 CAA) turned the ball over four times in the same stretch to deny a comeback opportunity.
“We kept fighting,” head coach Dane Fischer said. “I told our guys afterwards, I said I loved the way that we fought. We just couldn’t quite get over the hump. We couldn’t quite get it going enough, but sometimes that happens when you play.”
The College had its work cut out from the tip, as the Tigers jumped out to a 6-0 advantage and then continued to expand it, eventually leading 14-5 at the 14 minute, 57 second mark. However, the Tribe closed the gap quickly, with a pull-up jumper by graduate guard Bryce Barnes and a triple from freshman wing Miguel Ayesa tying the contest at 21 just over halfway through the opening period.
Towson grabbed the lead again immediately, pushing it to as much as seven points on the back of a strong shooting performance. The Tigers shot 63 percent from the field in the first half, including 4 of 7 from behind the arc.
“Towson played really well tonight,” senior center Nathan Knight said. “The biggest thing for us was just sticking to the game plan, making them take those tough mid-range shots and contested threes. I don’t know what they shot in the first half. … It just felt like they couldn’t miss, really. They were shooting the shots we wanted them to take, they were just making them.”
Even with the Tigers shooters on fire, the College kept the game within striking distance. A Knight and-one in the last minute of the period ensured the Tribe would enter the second half down just four, 39-35.
Towson came out of the gate strong in the second half, holding the Tribe scoreless for the first four minutes and extending the advantage to 46-35. After the College attempted to cut into the lead, Towson guard Jason Gibson hit a contested jumper to push the lead back to 11, 50-39. Gibson led the Tigers in scoring on the afternoon with 21 points.
“He’s been playing really well lately,” Fischer said. “I think early on, they were taking some of the shots we wanted them to. We probably could have made it more challenging, a little bit, put them under a little more duress, but he certainly got going, and then kind of stayed hot the rest of the way.”
The College did not go quietly. A 15-6 spurt powered by senior forward Andy Van Vliet got the Tribe within two, 56-54. But in two separate possessions with chances to tie the game — one down 58-56 and one down 59-56 — the Tribe came up empty. The second of those two was a backbreaker; Barnes threw an errant pass to Knight that resulted in a turnover, and Towson scored on the other end. The College did not get any closer for the rest of the game.
That was not the only mental mistake down the stretch — Knight turned the ball over on a careless pass leading to a fast break layup, then Barnes did the same just moments later, ensuring a late comeback would not come to fruition and all but sealing a 70-58 defeat.
Knight led the College with 20 points and six rebounds in the contest while playing just 29 minutes due to foul trouble. Van Vliet added 10 and six boards, while no other Tribe players broke double digits. The College struggled from the three-point range, just sinking four of its 21 attempts.
Even with the loss, the Tribe still sits in first place in the Colonial Athletic Association at the halfway point of conference play, at 7-2 in the league. Meanwhile, Towson, Charleston and Hofstra are all tied for second place at 6-3. In what will be a defining week in the race for the regular season conference crown, the College will play host to Charleston Thursday night at Kaplan Arena before welcoming Hofstra to Williamsburg Saturday afternoon.