William and Mary started the non-conference season with relative success, but it has had a relatively up-and-down start to the season. The College managed to string together two wins in a row once, but it has been unable to achieve sustained success despite a record sitting just above .500.
The Tribe claimed a hard-fought victory last Sunday against Fairfield and looked to continue the momentum with a home game against in-state rival Richmond Dec. 5. The Spiders entered Tuesday’s game with no momentum whatsoever, having won only one of their first seven non-conference matchups. All six of their losses were by at least 14 points, including an 18-point loss to the Fairfield team that the Tribe toppled two days ago. The Spiders were looking to get their season back on track and to avenge a 78-64 loss to the Tribe last season.
Dec. 5, the College (5-3) picked up its second-straight victory in a 65-55 wire-to-wire victory over the struggling Spiders (1-7).
The College came out firing from behind the three-point line but missed its first three attempts. However, a strong defensive effort and hustle plays from the Tribe kept the Spiders scoreless in the first four minutes and the College was able to claim an early 7-0 advantage.
“If we’re not good at those [hustle] plays tonight, we don’t win,” head coach Ed Swanson said.
Sophomore guard Nyla Pollard put the Tribe up five with the College’s first made three of the night and Reynolds extended the advantage to seven before the Spiders called a timeout with 6:06 to go in the opening quarter. The Spiders were also plagued by early turnovers, with five before their early timeout. Finally, Richmond got on the board after the timeout, with three buckets in the next two minutes, trimming their deficit to 9-6. As the clocked ticked under three minutes, guard Claire Holt hit a three to tie the game and complete a 9-2 scoring run for the Spiders. At the other end, redshirt sophomore guard Harper Birdsong answered with a three of her own to put the Tribe back on top. The College tightened up on defense for the rest of the quarter and took a 13-9 lead into the second quarter.
The Spiders halted their scoring drought at the start of the second quarter, but once again Birdsong responded with a three of her own. On the Tribe’s next offensive possession, Birdsong drove to the basket and made a contested bank shot. After another defensive stop, Birdsong reached double-digit points in just over seven minutes of action with her third three-pointer of the evening. That gave the College a 21-13 lead with just over seven minutes before half and forced the Spiders to spend another timeout.
“[Birdsong] can really score the ball and she looks for her shot,” Swanson said. “[She] is key to what we’re going to do.”
The Spiders chipped away at the deficit, whittling the Tribe’s lead down to just two with under two minutes to go in the quarter, before freshman guard Eva Hodgson made a contested three-pointer with the shot clock expiring to put the Tribe back up by five. Hodgson, who was the Colonial Athletic Association Rookie of the Week last week, scored again on the next possession. Despite Hodgson’s effort, the College were only up 30-27 at the break, courtesy of a last-second jump shot by sophomore guard Libby Underwood.
After going scoreless in the first half, senior guard Bianca Boggs opened the scoring for the College in the third quarter with a three from the top of the key. A couple of possessions later, Birdsong continued her strong offensive performance with a mid-range jumper before Hodgson knocked down a pair of free throws to put the Tribe back up by eight. The College ultimately extended its scoring run to 9-0, giving the Tribe its first double-digit advantage of the game, 42-31. The Spiders finally stopped the bleeding with five straight points of their own. Up by just six, Reynolds got the Tribe back on track with a three-pointer from the left wing at the 3:36 mark of the third quarter. Guard Kailyn Fee answered at the other end to make the score 45-39, still in favor of the Tribe, which led the entire game. Despite only having three points, Boggs contributed to the College in other ways, including a blocked shot late in the third quarter that led to a transition jumper by Pollard to stretch the lead to nine. At the end of the third quarter, the College maintained its nine-point edge, 52-43.
Despite never leading, the Spiders continued to hang around, only trailing 53-48 with just over six minutes to play in the game. Just like it had all night, the Tribe responded to ensure that it kept the lead. Hodgson came up with an offensive rebound and made a reverse layup to push the Tribe’s advantage back to seven. Nevertheless, Swanson was forced to take a timeout after the Spiders rallied to make the score 55-52 with 4:48 remaining. Out of the timeout, it was Hodgson who once again came up with a big play for the Tribe, making a floater and then coming up with a rebound that led to a Boggs layup.
The Spiders were unable to get within one possession for the remainder of the game and the College picked up a 65-55 victory.
In a losing effort, the Spiders were led by guard Daijia Ruffin’s 16 points. The College was paced by Hodgson’s 15 points and six assists.
“A lot of teams right now are focusing on [Boggs] and trying to shut her down,” Hodgson said. “Just by her doing her thing, it creates a lot for us.”
Birdsong also had a solid game with 13 points and Reynolds joined her in double-figures with 14 points.
The College wrapped up its week with a road game against Old Dominion. The Tribe attempted to take a three-game winning streak and a 6-3 record into the break for final exams.