William and Mary drops season opener in heartbreaking fashion

RYAN GOODMAN // THE FLAT HAT Sophomore guard Alexa Mikeska looks to expand her role on this year’s Tribe team after an impressive freshman season.

Monday, Nov. 6, William and Mary women’s basketball lost 66-64 to Norfolk State in its nail-biting season opener at Kaplan Arena in WIlliamsburg, Va.

“I’m just super proud of my team,” head coach Erin Dickerson Davis said. “We are figuring things out. We have a lot of young players playing a lot of minutes. We also have some newcomers that we’re trying to figure out how to gel at this point.”

Ahead of the game, the Tribe held a brief pregame ceremony commemorating recent renovations to Kaplan Arena, most notably unveiling a new scoreboard above the center of the court.

The defining element of the first quarter was the Tribe defense, which held Norfolk State to 3-16 from the field, amounting to just seven points. William and Mary jumped ahead quickly, thanks to graduate student forward Nylah Young scoring the first six points of the game. Young then drained a jumper with six minutes, 14 seconds remaining in the first quarter to build up the Tribe lead. 

In her first career game with the Tribe, Young finished the night with 29 points. She previously played four years at Hampton University, including last season, when she was named Third Team All-CAA.

Three minutes later, junior guard Bella Nascimento converted from downtown to extend the Tribe lead to eight points. Each team converted one more field goal in the remainder of the quarter, leading to a 15-7 Tribe lead as the first came to an end.

The Tribe carried its momentum into the second quarter, quickly going on a 13-0 run to extend its lead to 24-7. The home team’s offensive burst began with a layup from junior forward Anahi-Lee Cauley. Young then made two three throws to extend William and Mary’s lead to double digits. Another layup from Young and a shoulder three from sophomore forward Kayla Rolph sent Kaplan Arena into a cheer-filled frenzy. Young continued her offensive attack with another trip to the line, followed by a drive into the paint which resulted in a layup off the glass.

With 4 minutes, 57 seconds remaining in the second, Norfolk State called a timeout hoping to slow down momentum. At this point in the game, the Tribe recorded seven assists, compared to the Spartans’ zero.

Later in the quarter, the Spartans came alive on both ends of the ball, playing lockdown defense and converting on points off turnovers. A series of points in the paint and several trips to the foul stripe amounted to a 12-0 Spartan run, bringing the Tribe lead down to five points in the final minute of the half.

Hoping to score in the final seconds of the half, Rolph was called for a travel, leaving William and Mary scoreless with 3:59 left of the second quarter. A sloppy performance in the back half of the quarter resulted in nine team turnovers. Though Norfolk State shot 5-16 from the field, the team registered an impressive 9-11 from the stripe to tighten the contest. The visiting team also recorded three steals in the quarter.

Both teams traded layups in the opening minute of the second half. After a missed three-pointer from Norfolk State’s junior guard Da’naijah Williams, senior forward Rebekah Frisby-Smith grabbed the rebound. Right under the basket, Norfolk State’s junior guard Niya Fields ripped the ball away from Frisby-Smith and passed to Williams, who converted a layup to pull the visiting team within one score. Fueled by the momentum of her own steal, Fields drained a deep ball on the next possession to tie the game up at 33 all, marking the first tie since the start of the contest.

After the game, Dickerson Davis said she tried to instill confidence in her team despite its slip-ups.

“From the very beginning I was telling them to be champions,” Dickerson Davis said. “You know, it’s actually really difficult to play ahead. It’s very difficult to do that to keep a lead, especially against a team that we know is very good. So I was just trying to get them to keep their composure. I said the word ‘poise’ a couple of times. I needed my leaders to kind of step up and stop the bleeding.”

With 6:30 remaining in the third quarter, Norfolk State drew three William and Mary fouls, giving the visitors multiple chances to take the lead. Finally, on a foul by Rolph, Norfolk State’s freshman guard Da’Brya Clark went to the line for a pair of free throws. She drained both shots to give the Spartans its first lead of the contest at 35-33.

With the crowd in distress, Nascimento took matters into her own hands, draining a three-pointer from the wing to recapture the lead for the Tribe. However, back-to-back jumpers from Norfolk State’s junior forward Kierra Wheeler and Williams propelled the Spartans back into the lead. Another three-pointer for Norfolk State, this time from Fields, extended the visitors’ lead to six points.

The Tribe offense continued to struggle, missing several three-point shots and becoming sloppy with the ball and off the glass in the back half of the third quarter. Young, who scored 18 points within the first 15 minutes of the game, failed to add any points on the board through the end of the third quarter.

Part of Young’s slowdown can be attributed to foul trouble. Once Dickerson Davis noticed Young committed her fourth foul, she told the veteran to play smart.

“Yeah, when I started fouling I was kind of going into panic mode, but my teammates helped me get back to myself,” Young said.

Norfolk State opened up scoring in the final quarter with a layup from its junior forward Makoye Diawara, extending the visitors’ lead back to six points. After a pair of free throws and a layup off a steal by freshman guard Anjanae Richardson, the lead grew to double digits, marking a 30 point swing from the Tribe’s 20-point lead in the middle portion of the second quarter.

After a Tribe timeout, Young returned to the stat sheet, converting on a layup from close range to halt the Spartan momentum. However, Norfolk State’s graduate student forward Paris Mullins matched Young on the other end, keeping the lead in double digits.

With 5:14 seconds left in the game, William and Mary started to enter desperation mode. Freshman guard Cassidy Geddes drained a three-pointer from the top of the arc. On the ensuing William and Mary possession, Nascimento converted one of two free-throws to bring the deficit to 10 points. Then, Young took a trip to the line and drained both shots to continue closing the deficit with just under four minutes left in the game.

Now fueled by its offensive momentum, the Tribe started playing aggressively on defense. Sophomore guard Alexa Mikeska recovered a hard fought steal that ended with her on the ground as cheers erupted throughout the arena. Now back on offense, Geddes missed a deep ball, but Rolph fought hard for the offensive rebound and drew a foul, sending her to the line. She drained both shots, cutting the Spartan lead to just six points.

Hungry for more, Rolph stayed aggressive on defense and picked up another steal for the Tribe. She passed to Young on the fastbreak, who laid in the ball. By this point the fans were on their feet, with College President Katherine Rowe joining the student pep band to cheer on the team in the final minutes of the game.

Amidst a flurry of Tribe momentum, Fields drained a three-pointer to redeem herself following a series of turnovers. The shot extended Norfolk State’s lead back to six points, slamming the Tribe momentum to a halt.

However, Young kept the hope alive in Williamsburg, securing an and-one for the home team to close the lead to three points with less than two minutes remaining. On the next Tribe drive, Young drove towards the basket, drawing yet another foul to get back to the line. She drained both shots, bringing her to 29 points on the day.

With time winding down, the Tribe attempted to lock in on the defensive side of the court. However, Wheeler hit nothing but net on the ensuing Spartan possession, increasing the visitor’s lead to double digits. Dickerson Davis called a timeout to regroup her team.

After the pause, Nascimento missed on a deep shot, but Rolph secured the offensive rebound while drawing a foul. She tacked on another point from the stripe to pull the Tribe within one point with 0.168 remaining.

After a 30 second timeout, Mikelsa had to foul to give the Tribe a chance. Fields went to the line, making her first shot but missing the second. Nascimento grabbed the rebound and passed up court, but without any timeouts remaining and not in formation, the Tribe scrambled to get off a shot. From beyond the arc, Geddes lost control of the ball. The Tribe regained control, but the chaos forced Nascimento to throw up a shot as the clock hit zero. Her shot missed right and the Tribe walked away from its home opener with a 66-64 loss.

Following the game, Young expressed optimism for the team’s chemistry heading into the season.

“We’re definitely growing every day,” Young said. “We’re learning from each other every day more and more. So today was a great day to show how we talk together and now we just have to take that to the next game and just learn from mistakes and just carry on to the next game and to the rest of the season. But I feel like we’re in a really good place, even though we got the loss.”

Next up, William and Mary will host Virginia Commonwealth Friday, Nov. 10 at 7 p.m. in Kaplan Arena in Williamsburg, Va.


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