Men’s basketball: Strong second half sends Tribe past Cougars, 74-63

William and Mary’s last two games can be summed up in two plays: junior guard Marcus Thornton’s buzzer-beating three-pointer to beat Drexel 68-66 and freshman guard Omar Prewitt’s two-hand transition dunk that catalyzed a momentous run culminating in a 74-63 victory over Charleston.

While Saturday’s matchup turned on a single play, one that qualified for SportsCenter’s “Top 10 Plays,” Monday night’s matchup came down to an entire half of phenomenally efficient offensive playmaking — the kind that, like Prewitt’s dunk, no one thought possible. The Tribe (12-7, 4-2 CAA) scored 49 points in the second half on 69.9 percent shooting with no turnovers.

Both turnarounds revolved around Thornton, who scored 26 points in each game, most of which came in the second half.

“The overall thing is Marcus Thornton is a guy I don’t have,” Charleston head coach Doug Wojcik said.

Thornton’s heroics merely marked the most memorable of the Tribe’s performances Monday. Senior guard Brandon Britt scored 15 points in 23 minutes, including six pivotal late-game free throws.

Charleston provided tough matchups in the frontcourt for the Tribe. Power forward Willis Hall, one of the most prolific big men in the conference and dangerous on the offensive end both inside and outside of the paint, proved an especially hard cover.

The Tribe’s defense slouched through the first period, as Charleston’s big men controlled the tempo in the interior area. Senior center Tim Rusthoven was in foul trouble virtually the whole game, which led head coach Tony Shaver to play sophomore center Sean Sheldon for 20 minutes. Sheldon responded well, providing the linchpin for the Tribe’s 3-2 defense.

“You couldn’t make me believe coming into this game that Tim Rusthoven was going to play 15 minutes, and we’re [going to] win this ballgame,” Shaver said. “Sean Sheldon played great — just a lot of guys making things happen for us.”

Four minutes into the second half, the Tribe engineered a 13-2 run that was built off sound defense coupled with miraculous three-point shooting. On three successive possessions, the Tribe knocked down threes, including senior guard Julian Boatner’s only two field goal attempts of the game.

“The way they played defense, they weren’t helping out on the shooters at all,” Britt said. “Coming off the ball-screens, we were able to drive the ball. But Boatner came in and made two big shots, and Marcus is always making tough shots.”

Prewitt’s transition dunk after a steal by Britt punctuated the stretch and sent Tribe fans into hysterics. Monday’s victory extended the Tribe’s home win streak to five.

The Tribe nabbed five steals and forced seven turnovers in the second half, during which the Cougars only scored 29 points. Charleston’s inside game deteriorated over the course of the final 20 minutes. In the second half, the Cougars offense became one-dimensional and relied on deep threes. Charleston attempted 23 three-pointers to the Tribe’s 13, an unusual statistic that belies the Tribe’s 53 percent shooting percentage for the game.

“Terrific second half and the difference was our defense,” Shaver said. “The second half we were much better defensively, much better on the boards, and that allowed us to get transition baskets, to relax a little more on offense. But I thought our defense in the second half was the key to the game.”

The slowdown in the Cougars offense was possibly due to fatigue. Charleston’s starters each played over 27 minutes, and three of them played over 35 minutes. Meanwhile, the Tribe reaped the rewards of a deep rotation, sending out just two players for more than 25 minutes.

“We got a lot of guys, a lot of depth, three starters on the bench,” Thornton said. “So we can just play freely, get into our sets, and find a rhythm.”

With a game against the current Colonial Athletic Association leader Delaware Wednesday, Shaver was candid about what he wants from his team as it heads into its final nine regular season games.

“We really want to be a good basketball team,” Shaver said. “We really want to be a challenger in this league. We [have to] be good defensively.”

The Tribe hosts Delaware Wednesday at 7 p.m.


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