Saturday, Feb. 15, as a roaring student section and raucous crowd cheered on, an impressive shooting game helped William and Mary (18-10, 10-5 CAA) top the Delaware Blue Hens (19-7, 9-4 CAA) 81-77 inside Kaplan Arena during the Gold Rush game. The win vaults the Tribe into second place in the Colonial Athletic Association with just three regular season games remaining.
Entering Saturday’s game, the Tribe sat in third place in the conference after a crucial win inside Kaplan Arena just two nights before against the Drexel Dragons. The Blue Hens, led by star junior Nate Darling, came into the game riding a seven-game win streak and sitting in second place in the CAA, one spot ahead of the Tribe. The last time these two teams faced off in Newark, the Tribe dominated on both ends of the floor to win 77-68, with senior guard Nathan Knight leading the Tribe with 25 points and 14 rebounds. The game Saturday marked the Tribe’s sixth annual Gold Rush game, as the first 1,250 fans were greeted with a free gold T-shirt at the gate.
Knight opened the game’s scoring with a right-hand hook shot after a monstrous block from senior Andy Van Vliet on the other end of the court. After a free throw from Knight to put the Tribe up by three, Darling drilled a three on the other end to tie the game. Darling opened the game scoring the first 12 points for the Blue Hens. At the first media timeout, the score was knotted at 12 with 14 minutes and 9 seconds remaining in the half.
With 11:52 remaining, Delaware led 20-16, but Knight returned from the bench and provided a huge boost for the Tribe, including a put-back dunk to ignite the crowd. Darling continued to dominate on the offensive end for the Blue Hens, scoring 16 points and not missing a shot in the first 11 minutes. After a controversial call gave Knight his second foul of the game and sent him to the bench, it was up to the Tribe’s role players to pick up the slack while Darling continued his reign of terror on the Tribe defense.
After the final media timeout, Darling knocked down a pair of free throws to extend his scoring total to 25 and extend the Blue Hen lead to nine, its highest of the game thus far. On the other end, the scrappy play continued, with Knight and sophomore Justyn Mutts involved in a scuffle after a foul. A dunk from Van Vliet with just over a minute remaining cut the lead to five, but junior Dylan Painter laid in a tough contested shot on the other end to push Delaware’s lead back to seven.
At the half, Delaware led the Tribe 43-36. Darling was the story of the first half, scoring 25 points on seven of 11 shooting, connecting on four of six from beyond the arc and hitting all seven of his free throw attempts. The Tribe outshot Delaware in the first half, connecting on 55 percent of its shots while the Blue Hens made 50 percent. Foul trouble doomed the Tribe, with four players recording two or more personal fouls in the opening 20 minutes. Of the first half, head coach Dane Fischer commented on his team’s struggles, believing the team to of lost a bit of focus during the half.
“I thought in the first half we got a little bit rattled,” Fischer said. “I think the calls bothered us a little bit and we lost a little bit of focus there.”
At halftime, the Tribe recognized former standout Marcus Thornton by retiring his number three jersey into the rafters of Kaplan. As a member of the men’s basketball team from 2011-2015, Thornton was a force to be reckoned with, and is widely recognized as one of the best players in school history. He finished his career as the highest scorer in the College’s school history, amassing 2,178 points. After Saturday, the number three will never be worn by another Tribe player.
Van Vliet opened the scoring for the Tribe in the second half and soon after, Knight began to take over the game. Behind the enthusiastic home crowd, the Tribe cut into the Blue Hens’ lead, as Barnes raced down the court on a fast break with 16:39 left and converted the layup to cut the lead to one. Just before the media timeout, Knight was fouled hard underneath the basket. Unhappy with the call, Mutts registered a technical foul, giving him four on the afternoon. Knight made three of four from the free throw line to take the lead for the College, 45-43. The second media timeout of the half capped a 15-2 run for the College. With Knight on the bench with three fouls, Delaware stopped the bleeding to cut into the Tribe’s lead, tying the game on a three-point play from Colin Goss with 12:05 left in the game.
Just over halfway into the second half, Delaware’s Kevin Anderson knocked down a tough shot in the lane to extend the lead to four, 57-53. Goss pestered the Tribe down low on both ends scoring some tough baskets and playing stout defense on Knight. Darling was much quieter in the second half, scoring just two points in the opening 10 minutes. The energy on the court was extremely tense, both teams not giving any easy possessions. With 7:32 remaining, Barnes swung a pass over to Knight who buried the ensuing shot, cutting the lead to three points.
A few possessions later, graduate guard Tyler Hamilton followed with a rare three pointer, which sent the decibel level inside Kaplan off the chart.
Of that shot, sophomore center Quinn Blair said “Ty does a lot of things that don’t show up in the box score. For him to step up and hit that shot in such a big moment and get a little bit of recognition that he really deserves, that’s awesome for him.”
After Knight pushed his point total to 30 with a contested layup, Delaware coach Martin Inglesby called timeout as the College took a six-point lead. After the timeout, Knight rebounded Blair’s miss and made the ensuing basket to give him 33 points on the afternoon. Another loose ball with just over three minutes left in the game caused trouble for the Tribe as Luke Loewe was assessed the game’s second technical foul. Darling hit the ensuing free throws as did Anderson, shrinking the Tribe lead to three. On the next possession though, Blair made a clutch bucket underneath to stretch the lead and Hamilton blocked the Delaware shot attempt, continuing his run of strong defense.
With 1:45 remaining, the Tribe led the Blue Hens by a score of 74-69 as both Darling and Knight had 33 points to lead their respective teams. Ryan Allen continued to hit big shots, cutting the lead back to four with just over one-minute remaining. Blair’s clutch free throws with 29.2 seconds remaining extended the lead to six and Fischer called timeout as victory loomed near. Delaware was not done, however, as Darling hit a big three pointer to add to his game-high point total. Van Vliet was fouled on the following possession and made one free throw to seal the deal. On the other end, the Blue Hens missed two threes in a row, as the final buzzer sounded.
The win vaults the Tribe past the Blue Hens in the CAA standings, as William and Mary picks up its 10th conference win on the season, and 18th overall. While turnovers plagued the Tribe for a second straight week, the College more than made up for it behind 33 points and 12 rebounds from Knight. His 33 points pushed him into second for the most points scored in school history. Knight is one of only three players in the country to average 20 points and 10 rebounds per game this season, and a Tribe player has not posted such numbers since 1968. As a team, the Tribe shot 60.7 percent in the second half and 58.2 percent overall. The 5,090 fans in attendance witnessed one of the best games of the season, with 12 ties and 12 lead changes throughout the contest.
After the game Knight said, “the win was huge, in an environment like this, it’s big for the community, our team, and the school itself.”
Up next, the Tribe heads on the road for two CAA contests against Towson on Thursday night at 7 pm and against James Madison Saturday afternoon in Harrisonburg, Virginia. The Tribe returns to Kaplan February 29 for the final home game of the season to take on Elon for Senior Day.