Men’s basketball: Season ends for Tribe as College falls to Charleston in CAA semifinals, 83-73

William and Mary lost in the CAA semifinal to Charleston, 83-73. The defeat ends the Tribe's season. EMILY CHAUMONT / THE FLAT HAT

William and Mary entered the Colonial Athletic Association semifinals on a three-game winning streak after leading wire-to-wire against Towson in the quarterfinals, en route to an 80-66 win. Charleston came in as the top seed in the tournament and winners of 12 of their last 13 contests. Their only loss during that stretch had been to the College in a 114-104 overtime thriller at Kaplan Arena. The Cougars won the other regular season meeting against the Tribe, 82-77 to help them to an undefeated season at home. Monday, the Tribe’s CAA championship hopes were dashed as the Cougars’ hot shooting and active defense bested the College, 83-73.

The College got off to a thunderous start with senior guard David Cohn hitting sophomore forward Nathan Knight who slammed it home to give the Tribe a 2-0 lead. At the other end, Knight blocked a shot attempt by Charleston forward Jarrell Brantley, before scoring again to make it 4-0 in the first two minutes. The top-seeded Cougars responded strongly with four consecutive points of their own. Three minutes into the game, the College trailed for the first time in the CAA tournament, 7-6, but senior guard Connor Burchfield made his first shot of the night to help the College regain a one-point edge.

The game started with a blistering pace and Knight dominating on the offensive end for the Tribe, scoring eight points in the first six minutes. At the first media timeout, the Tribe trailed 11-10, but Knight quickly jumped into double figures, hitting two free throws to put the College back on top. The teams continued to exchange leads in the early going, but both teams had a couple scoreless possessions going into the media timeout at 11:49. The Cougars held tight to a 13-12 lead.

The Tribe missed its first three attempts from three-point range, allowing the Cougars to extend their lead to 17-12 midway through the opening 20 minutes.

“Our execution offensively wasn’t very good and I’ll credit [Charleston] with that,” head coach Tony Shaver said.

A three by guard Grant Riller capped a 9-0 run for Charleston, but the College responded with its first three of the night. Rowley made the triple for the Tribe, but Riller immediately drilled his second three in a row giving the Cougars an eight-point advantage at the 9:22 mark. Just seconds later, he made it three in a row, giving the Cougars a double-digit lead. Knight responded at the other end with a basket of his own to cut the deficit to nine.

The Cougars missed shots on two possessions in a row around the seven-minute mark, but offensive rebounds led to second-chance points and brought their lead back to 10. With the College struggling to shoot on the perimeter, Knight stepped out and added a trey. Burchfield came down the next possession and hit a three of his own to make it a 28-24 game. The College went scoreless on its next two trips, but the Cougars failed to extend the lead with just over four minutes remaining until the break.

“Our execution offensively wasn’t very good and I’ll credit [Charleston] with that,” head coach Tony Shaver said.

With less than four minutes to play in the half, the College stretched its run to 8-0 before the Cougars finally answered with a layup by Riller. He was also fouled by Rowley on the shot, but Riller missed the free throw, keeping the score at 30-26. However, on Charleston’s next possession Brantley slammed one home to push the lead back to six. At the other end, Pierce cut the lead in half with his first points of the night, a three-pointer from the top of the key. Knight returned to the game with under two minutes to play before halftime. He immediately made an impact, scoring a layup with the assist credited to Rowley. However, the Cougars closed the half well, taking a 39-34 lead to the locker room, despite a three-pointer from Cohn to beat the buzzer.

Knight led the Tribe in the first half with 17 points, stepping up as the Tribe struggled with its shots from deep. However, the Tribe finished 5-11 from three-point range in the first half, making a majority of those in the last several minutes of the first half. On top of Knight’s 17, Burchfield added seven points and five boards for the Tribe. The two teams were tied 17-17 in first half rebounds, but the Cougars had four offensive rebounds compared to none for the College. The Cougars were led by the hot shooting of Riller, who had a game-high 18 points in the first 20 minutes. The Cougars were less efficient from three, but made one more than the Tribe, shooting 6-19 from deep.

Cohn started the scoring for the College in the second half, cutting the lead to 39-36 and forcing a turnover by guard Joe Chealey. After the Cougars scored the next four points, Knight notched his first points of the second half on a dunk to keep the Tribe within striking distance, 43-38, with just over 17 minutes to play. On the defensive end, the Tribe struggled to get stops, allowing Charleston to continue to play with the lead. After another Cougar offensive board and second-chance basket, Shaver called a timeout with his team trailing 47-40 at the 15:51 mark.

The College responded promptly with Burchfield’s second three of the night, cutting the deficit to four once again. The Cougars missed two free throws at the other end, and the College finally held them to a scoreless possession. After several scoreless possessions, Rowley finally capitalized on offense for the Tribe with a triple to bring the College within one with 13 minutes to play.

“We played hard enough to win today, but we weren’t good enough to win today,” Shaver said.

The Cougars refused to give up the lead, though, as guard Cameron Johnson drained yet another three to bump their advantage up to 50-46. Riller made it five-straight points for the Cougars on the next possession. The Tribe was able to stop the run but continued to trade baskets with the Cougars and trailed 55-50 at the midway point of the second half. Riller and Knight, the two leading scorers in the game, traded buckets, and the Tribe got a rare stop on the defensive end. Then, Rowley drove to the basket and laid it in to bring the College within three with nine minutes to play.

After another stop, the Tribe had a chance to tie the game, but a Knight turnover led to another Cougar three. Pierce responded with a layup with Cohn assisting bringing the score to 60-56. The College’s defense forced a shot clock violation and a free throw from Knight, bringing the Tribe with one possession once again with 7:20 left in the game. Once again, the College could not draw even, as Chealey hit a trio of free throws to stretch the Charleston lead to 63-57.

Three possessions later, bodies sprawled across the floor after the College missed a three. Charleston was able to call timeout and get the ball back up 66-59 with 5:34 remaining. Riller got yet another open three and buried it, giving his team a double-digit lead and him 25 points on the evening.

“[Riller] really hurt us, he’s a great player,” Shaver said.

With the game slipping away from the Tribe, Cohn buried a clutch three to keep the Tribe within striking range, 69-62 at the four-minute mark. However, the Tribe could not come up with the necessary stops on defense, and the Cougars quickly went back on top by 11.

With the Tribe down double-digits in the last three minutes, Rowley hit his third and fourth threes of the contest to cut the Cougars’ lead to seven. The College had a chance to cut into the lead even more, but Knight stepped out of bounds and Charleston scored a decisive bucket at the other end. Down by six with a minute to go, the Tribe started to foul the Cougars to extend the game. Like they had all game, the Cougars hit their free throws and punctuated the 83-73 win with a Brantley dunk with 30 seconds to play.

“We played hard enough to win today, but we weren’t good enough to win today,” Shaver said.

The College was led by 31 points and seven rebounds from Knight, while the Cougars had five players in double figures, including Riller’s team-high 25.

“I’m just thankful for everyone that’s supported me,” Cohn said. “It’s only a matter of time before the Tribe breaks through.”

With the loss to the Cougars, the College is eliminated from the CAA Tournament and will not receive the conference’s automatic bid to the National Collegiate Athletic Association Tournament. The Tribe is one of only four original Division I NCAA teams to never qualify for the NCAA Tournament, along with Army, the Citadel and St. Francis-Brooklyn. The College could possibly receive a bid to another postseason tournament such as the National Invitational Tournament, the College Basketball Invitational or the Postseason Tournament.

Next season, the Tribe will return its three sophomore starters, Knight, Milon and Pierce. Burchfield and Cohn will graduate in the spring.

“I’m just thankful for everyone that’s supported me,” Cohn said. “It’s only a matter of time before the Tribe breaks through.”

Rowley, who played significant minutes this season, will also be back for one more season for the Tribe. The College will look to make it over the CAA semifinal hurdle after losing in that round three straight years and getting to at least the semifinal for five straight years. In 2016, the Tribe lost by three to Hofstra; in 2017 the College lost a high-scoring affair, 105-94, to eventual champion North Carolina-Wilmington.

“We want to find a way to make the next step, we’re consistently really good, we’re consistently fighting for championships, but we want to make that next step and I think we have some young guys who can get us here,” Shaver said.


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