Men’s Basketball: Tribe beats Elon, locks up 2-seed in CAA

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Jamie Holt / The Flat Hat

In its regular -season home finale and Senior Day game, William and Mary (21-10, 13-5 CAA) vanquished Elon (11-20, 7-11 CAA) Saturday, Feb. 29, at Kaplan Arena. The Tribe entered its final game before the Colonial Athletic Association tournament following a recent upswing of four straight wins after experiencing a low point of three straight losses in early February. With a hard-fought 86-79 victory over Elon, the Tribe won its 21st regular season game. The last time such the Tribe won 21 regular season games was in the 1950-51 season over 70 years ago. The victory allowed the Tribe to clinch sole ownership of second place in the CAA rankings. 

Before tipoff, the Tribe honored its senior class players. For Senior Day, the College recognized senior managers Bobby Oldfield and Alex Waltman and celebrated senior players Tyler Hamilton, Bryce Barnes, Andy Van Vliet and Nathan Knight, who have played a combined 386 games for the Tribe. 

The lone fourth-year member of the Tribe, Knight received a long ovation from a crowd of 5,180 spectators before tipoff. Later in the evening, Knight received another ovation when he stepped onto the court with 13.5 seconds left in regulation, the Phoenix all but beaten. 

“It’s been a blessing,” said Knight, who has 2,117 career points and is second on the Tribe’s all-time scoring list. “This school’s given me so much on so many fronts. Just a humble kid from Syracuse, and the school has put so much trust in me as a student and as a player.” 

In the final home game of his career, Knight led the Tribe in scoring with 20 points, shooting 13-of-16 from the free-throw line, and finished with five rebounds and three assists. With Saturday’s win against Elon, he tied the 2018 senior class as the winningest class in Tribe history with 44 CAA wins. 

The Tribe’s second-leading scorer, Van Vliet, posted his 10th double-double of the season with 17 points and 12 rebounds. He shot 6-of-14 from the field, including 3-of-6 from three.  

A two-season player at Wisconsin who had to sit out last year as a transfer, Van Vliet said he found playing on William and Mary’s Senior Day well worth the wait. 

“I was getting excited last year to be able to play here this year, and I’d say it went pretty well,” he said. “I think we have amazing people here to take care of us as players and take care of us as students, and Im just happy and thankful for this place.” 

Fans in the student section chanted, “A-V-V, A-V-V!” as Van Vliet stepped onto the court for Senior Day. 

Another senior, Barnes, finished his Tribe career with 15 points, six assists and three steals against Elon. He ended the game as the Tribe’s leading passer and third-highest scorer. 

“There’s no substitute for having guys on the floor that have played at this level for a number of years and have been in those situations,” head coach Dane Fischer said of the senior players. “Even though it’s a new team, we’ve got guys who have been in those spots.” 

In its fifth-straight win since Feb. 3, the Tribe stayed cool as the Phoenix rained fire from the three-point line. The Tribe kept its lead the entire game, even managing to avoid a tie as Elon brought the lead down to one point midway through the first half. In the second half, the Tribe iced the Phoenix from the free-throw line, extinguishing it as it tried to stay hot from three. The Tribe closed out the game with eight key free throws in the final 44 seconds as Elon poured out four straight threes in that same span. 

In the first half, the Tribe caught fire and came out playing hot, the crowd fired up from the first possession. The Tribe won the tipoff and Knight converted on a corner three, with an early assist by Barnes. 

With less than 11 minutes left in the first half, the Tribe took a 14-point lead over the Phoenix — its largest lead of the game — after some hot shooting. The College hit eight of its first 12 shots to bring the score up to 24-10, before Phoenix guards Marcus Sheffield and Hunter McIntosh began heating up. 

Seven minutes later, the Tribe saw its lead shrink down to one point as the offense began cooling down. But the offense began to catch again once Knight stepped up to the free-throw line after being fouled by Phoenix forward Federico Poser. Knight missed his first free throw but made his second, and the Tribe went on a 10-0 run to bring the lead back up to 11 one minute before halftime. 

After Knight hit his second free throw, the Tribe began its 10-0 run with a jumper by Barnes in the paint, a steal by Barnes and a three-pointer by Van Vliet, forcing Elon to call a timeout.  

Once Barnes stole the ball from Poser, the Tribe passed the ball forward to Knight under the rim, who kicked it back to Van Vliet on the perimeter. With a beautiful assist by Knight, Van Vliet hit the three and Elon called timeout. 

The Tribe continued to pressure Elon after the timeout, and the game briefly got heated as the officials called a technical foul on Phoenix head coach Mike Schrage. Knight shot two free throws, hitting the first, and Van Vliet hit another three off an assist by Barnes to finish the 10-point run and bring the lead back up to 11 at 41-30. 

The Tribe looked to enter halftime with a double-digit lead, its first in the last 10 minutes, but a questionable call by the officials let the Phoenix bring the lead down to nine. Sheffield sank two free throws once the officials called a foul on sophomore guard Thornton Scott for many what in the crowd deemed a blocked shot. 

At halftime, the Tribe led 41-32.  

The Tribe outshot the Phoenix from both long and mid-range during the first half. The Tribe shot 59.2 percent (13-of-22) from the field, including 54.5 percent (6-of-11) from three. Meanwhile, Elon shot 42.9 percent (12-of-28) from the field, including 31.5 percent (5-of-16) from three. But the Tribe struggled with its free throws in the first half, hitting only 64.3 percent (9-of-14) of its shots from the line, while Elon converted 100 percent (3-of-3) of its foul shots. 

Coming off the bench for Knight, sophomore forward Quinn Blair made a big impact in the first half. Blair, the Tribe’s fourth-leading scorer with a career-high 14 points, scored nine of his total points in the first half and put up four defensive rebounds in 12 minutes of play. He shot 3-of-4 from the field in the first half, including 1-of-2 from three, and made both of his free throws. 

Blair left the game with 14 points and six rebounds. He shot 4-of-5 from the field, 1-of-2 from three and converted all six of his free throws. 

In the second half, the Tribe turned up the heat, achieving a 10-point lead at 63-53, before the Phoenix cooled it and began to bring the heat from three. With less than seven minutes remaining, McIntosh hit a pair of three-point jumpers within 30 seconds of each other and brought the Tribe’s lead down to four, its lowest in the second half, forcing it to call timeout. 

From a narrow 63-59 ballgame, the Tribe went on a 13-6 run and took a 76-65 lead with little more than a minute left. During the run, Van Vliet made some noise as he slammed a wide-open, one-handed dunk down the Phoenix basket. The crowd went wild, and the Tribe pulled ahead 13 points in its largest lead of the second half, 74-61. After Elon took a timeout, Barnes stole the ball from Sheffield and added a fast-break dunk in between a layup and jumper by Poser, bringing the score to 76-65 as the Phoenix took another timeout. 

The Phoenix looked to be burning up during the run as Sheffield flubbed a layup, airballed a three, and missed two-straight free throws in the last four minutes. But it came alive during the final minute of the game, raining fire down from three. 

Elon shot 4-of-5 from three with less than a minute remaining, but the Phoenix played with fire and got burned as it sent man after man to the free-throw line. Elon fouled four times, and the Tribe shot a perfect 8-of-8 from the line. Playing his first game since Feb. 8, Scott put up six free throws and finished with 10 points. Knight added two free throws, finishing 13-of-16 from the line, and reached 20 points.  

The Tribe iced the Phoenix from the foul line to win the game, 86-79. Four of Elon’s players fouled out by the end of the second half as the Phoenix came out too hot on defense. 

During the second half, the Phoenix outshot the Tribe in field goals and in threes but fell well behind it in free throws. The College shot 44 percent (11-of-25) from the field, including 16.7 percent (1-of-6) from three, and made 88 percent (22-of-25) of its free throws. Meanwhile, Elon shot 51.4 percent (18-of-35) from the field, including 45 percent (9-of-20) from three, and made only 50 percent (2-of-4) of its free throws. 

Overall, Elon outscored the College 41-21 from three, but the Tribe outscored the Phoenix 31-5 from the free-throw line. The Tribe shot 51.1 percent (24-of-47) from the field, including 41.2 percent (7-of-17) from three, and converted 79.5 percent (31-of-39) of its free throws. Elon shot 47.6 percent (30-of-63) from the field, including 38.9 percent (14-of-36) from three, and converted only 71.4 percent (5-of-7) of its free throws. 

After Saturday’s win against Elon, the Tribe will travel to Washington, D.C., to face either Elon or James Madison (9-20, 2-16 CAA) in the CAA Quarterfinals Sunday, March 8. 

“Our big thing this week is to try to get a little bit better each day,” Fischer said of preparing for the tournament next weekend. “Be mindful of preparing ourselves for what we may see in the first round. The most important thing is that we this thing one day at a time, get ourselves a little bit better, and get ourselves in a good place to go up there and play as well as we can.” 

The No. 7 Phoenix and the No. 10 Dukes face off Saturday, March 7, to determine who will advance past the first round and play the Tribe.