Playing under the spotlight of the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament remains an elusive goal for the William and Mary men’s basketball program. Making an improbable run to the Final Four like Loyola-Chicago has this March? Nothing more than a pipe dream.
But after so many years of the Tribe coming painfully close to earning a place in the madness, senior guard Connor Burchfield’s victories in the Great Clips Men’s 3-Point Championship and Samsung Straight Talk Battle of the Champions Friday give College fans a chance to celebrate one of their own triumphing on a national stage.
After leading the country in three-point shooting percentage once again this season, knocking down 52 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc, Burchfield was invited to show off his sharpshooting abilities at the State Farm College Slam Dunk and 3-Point Championships in San Antonio, Texas, the host city for this year’s Final Four.
Broadcast live on ESPN2, the event gave Burchfield a chance to prove he deserved the title of “best shooter in America,” and the Concord, North Carolina native did not disappoint. Burchfield didn’t put up the top overall scores in the first two rounds of the men’s competition, but his consistency earned him a spot in the final against Jonathan Stark of Murray State.
Demonstrating the deadeye accuracy from deep which Tribe fans have become accustomed to seeing over his four years in Williamsburg, Burchfield put up 21 points in the final round, and the victory was sealed when Stark recorded just 14. Burchfield then went on to defeat Michigan’s Katelynn Flaherty, who won the Marine’s Women’s 3-Point Championship, in the Battle of the Champions.
“It was a lot of fun to be able to put on the jersey one more time, and what a way to go out bringing home the championship, bringing it back to Williamsburg,” Burchfield told Tribe Athletics after his pair of wins. “It was just a nice reward for a lot of hard work that’s been put in over the years.”
And if there was anyone Tribe supporters wanted to see succeed on this stage, it was Burchfield. I wrote in this space several weeks ago about the impact senior guard David Cohn (who was also invited to San Antonio, Texas, to participate in the 3X3U National Championship) had on Tribe basketball, and his backcourt partner Burchfield certainly influenced the culture of the program in a positive way as well.
Burchfield started just five games during his first three years in a Tribe uniform, coming off the bench when the College needed a scoring spark or to ensure those above him on the depth chart got a chance to rest. His sophomore season, Burchfield led the nation with a 56.3 percent shooting percentage from behind the arc, but his astounding range did not translate to a large increase in playing time.
However, while others in his class, such as Greg Malinowski and Jack Whitman ’17, transferred to larger programs, Burchfield stayed at the College and thrived in a senior season that saw him finally become a regular member of the Tribe’s starting five. He averaged 12.6 points per game, starting 28 contests and forming a lethal backcourt tandem with Cohn.
“For three years, he was a role player … a very valuable member of our team, but didn’t play as much as he wanted to play,” head coach Tony Shaver said of Burchfield back in November, after the shooting guard knocked down a school-record 10 threes in a win over Marshall. “And most kids today quit. They’ll transfer, go somewhere else and find supposed happiness. But he’s stuck it out, and I’m just so thrilled for him that he’s done that but that he’s reaping the benefits of that right now.”
Burchfield’s collegiate career comes to an end with him topping both the College’s and the Colonial Athletic Association’s rankings in career three-point shooting percentages. While his brilliance from beyond the three-point arc may be unparalleled, his younger teammates and future members of the Tribe can certainly learn from Burchfield’s example that hard work and patience pay off.
“First couple of years here at William and Mary, I wasn’t playing as much as I would have liked,” Burchfield told Tribe Athletics Friday night. “Never thought that after my senior year, I’d be shooting here on a national stage … and bringing home the trophy.”
It may not be the trophy the College wants most of all, but Burchfield’s accomplishments this weekend should not go ignored, either. If nothing else, Burchfield’s meteoric rise from minor role player to best shooter in America proves that Shaver and his staff are developing players the right way, shaping individuals into a team that can accomplish the program’s ultimate goal: to win the CAA and earn the College’s first NCAA tournament bid. Watching as Burchfield swished three after three in front of a sold-out crowd in San Antonio, Texas, made that day feel not so far away.