Men’s basketball: Crunch time

Following the William and Mary’s Jan. 21 home victory over Drexel, senior guard David Schneider vowed not to look at the CAA standings for the rest of the season. But despite the guard’s best intentions, Schneider and his teammates were well aware of the massive implications of Saturday’s regular season finale against North Carolina-Wilmington at Track Coliseum.

At stake, for the second straight game, was a top-four CAA finish and a first-round bye in the conference tournament. In stark contrast to last Wednesday’s loss to lowly Towson this time, the College seized enough early momentum to coast past the Seahawks, 62-51, and clinched the no. 3 seed and their first ever tournament bye in the process.

The victory also marked the third time since 1952 that the College recorded 20 victories in one regular season.

“Its amazing, simply amazing,” Schneider said. “It was definitely a team win, everyone pulled together today after a pretty tough loss. I think everybody came out really prepared and ready to play, and I think that was the biggest difference.”

After failing to lock up the no. 3 seed against Towson on Senior Night in Williamsburg, the College attempted to atone for its recent shortcomings by putting on an impressive first-half shooting performance. Midway through the opening period, the Tribe went on a 14-0 run. Eleven of those points were scored by sophomore guard Quinn McDowell.

In addition to McDowell’s hot hand, Schneider was 3 for 3 from behind the arc in the first half, allowing the Tribe to shoot an impressive 67 percent from downtown. It was a pace that the Seahawks could not overcome.

Once again, McDowell and Schneider provided the bulk of the scoring for the Tribe, as the tandem combined for 38 of the Tribe’s 62 points. Overall, the College shot 40 percent from the floor and 38 percent from three-point range.

“First of all, we got some great shots, and it was really nice to see the ball go in the hole,” Head Coach Tony Shaver said. “We didn’t shoot it that well in the second half, but we play at a whole different level when we make shots.”

Although the Tribe offense cooled significantly in the second half, the College’s defense kept UNC-Wilmington from obtaining any offensive momentum. Schneider and junior forward Marcus Kitts contributed 10 rebounds each, which allowed the College to earn a 41-38 rebounding advantage.

The College also silenced the Seahawks’ leading scorer, Chad Tomko, who was held without a bucket in the second half.

“I thought in the first half, we let Tomko get a few open looks, and in the second half, we did a much better job on him,” Shaver said. “The defense was good, and they haven’t been in the past couple of games, so it was nice to see us take some pride in it tonight.”

The College will look to ride its newfound positive momentum into this weekend’s CAA tournament in Richmond. As the third seed, the squad will avoid two of its main rivals—top seeded Old Dominion and no. 5 Virginia Commonwealth—before Monday’s championship game.

Instead, the College’s path to the championship game will be far less intimidating, as the Tribe will take on the winner of Friday’s matchup between no. 6 Drexel and no. 11 James Madison on Saturday at 8:30 p.m.

“Earlier today, I was just going over the playoff scenarios, and everything really played out to our advantage,” Schneider said. “Northeastern had a big win, ODU had a big win. I know especially from two years ago when we went to the CAA championship, just how much you need rest. Now that our journey won’t be four games in a row, I think that will really help us down the stretch. I also think we are in a great seed where the teams we play, we have played well against them or beaten them before, and I think it is crucial to have a lot of confidence going into the tournament. “

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