Men’s basketball commentary: Early season roller coaster leaves Tribe at .500

In more ways than one, William and Mary’s double-overtime loss to Richmond Wednesday night felt a lot like its overtime loss at VCU last season.

It’s not only that both games were played in the same city, or that they both needed more than 48 minutes to be decided. In each, the Tribe found itself in control late in a game that oddsmakers said it wasn’t supposed to compete in (Vegas had the College as a 10-point underdog Wednesday night). In both, sophomore guard Marcus Thornton had a chance to win it in the end. And in both, the College ultimately let it slip away.

But despite all the similarities, the biggest difference was on the Tribe’s side. This is a much different College team. Whereas last season it seemed like a small miracle that the Tribe would take VCU to overtime on the road, this year, it felt like the College belonged. Just compare the two box scores. At VCU last year, it was all Thornton all night. The second highest point total to Thornton’s 22 was Quin McDowell’s 15, followed by Brandon Britt’s 11.

Wednesday night, Thornton again led with 22, but right alongside him was junior center Tim Rusthoven with 20, junior forward Kyle Gaillard with 16, and Britt with 14. Against VCU, one couldn’t help but think that the College had just caught the Rams on an off-night as Shaka Smart’s club shot a paltry 37.5 percent from the field. Wednesday night, the perennial Atlantic-10 contender Spiders shot over 50 percent from the floor and the Tribe still led by 3 with the ball and under a minute to play.

Unfortunately, while last season College fans could return from Richmond pleasantly surprised, the improvement of this year’s team only makes Wednesday night’s loss sting more. For the second game in a row, the College had a shot at a marquee non-conference win. And for the second game in a row, the College couldn’t close it out.

But that shouldn’t take away from what a hard-fought and complete showing the Tribe had. In the first half, it was all Rusthoven and Gaillard, controlling the paint and collapsing Richmond’s defense. Then in the second, the College’s outstanding backcourt duo of Thornton and Britt took over, running the fast break, hitting outside shots and slicing to the basket.

If there’s one regression, it’s in the play of senior guard Matt Rum. He was the Tribe’s most accurate three-point shooter last season. This year, he’s shooting just 15.6 percent from the field. It’s hard to imagine that this is more than just an early-season slump, and his play could’ve been the difference in the Richmond and Wake Forest losses. If he returns to his career norms, he’ll round out the College’s starting five of scoring threats.

Look back to the previous four basketball seasons here in Williamsburg and you’ll find an interesting dichotomy. In all four, the Tribe has either lost 20 plus games or won more than 20. Unfortunately for fans, it’s been more often the former. But after starting with three wins over some troubled opponents and then losing three straight to dramatically improved competition, this year’s team — at least so far — occupies the space in between.

With so much basketball still to be played, it’s unclear how we’ll look back on Wednesday night’s game. If the historical trend continues, it’ll either be indicative of a team that couldn’t pull out close games, or one of many instances of the Tribe playing down to the wire with quality mid-major opponents. Or, this team will finish around .500, and it’ll be somewhere in the middle.


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