Back on Top And It Feels So Good

CAA Rankings as of 2.8.15 [via google.com]
CAA Rankings as of 2.8.15 [via google.com]
Just like that! After William & Mary (15-8, 9-3 CAA) suffered a humiliating defeat on the road against the CAA’s last-ranked team College of Charleston, the Tribe comes back by beating UNCW to retake first place in the CAA! It’s been a wild week, with a couple twists and turns, but the Tribe finds itself where we want them: in sole possession of first place once again.

On Saturday, William & Mary squared off with the UNCW Seahawks–the winner would take first place, and the loser would drop a game behind in the standings. UNCW came in eager to avenge an early season loss to the Tribe, in which W&M erased a 20 point deficit to put the Seahawks away.

The contest was sloppy on both sides. The Tribe consistently squandered the ball away with errant passes, erratic dribbling, and some bad decision-making in the first part of the game. In the first half alone, W&M turned the ball over a ridiculous 16 times, off of which the Seahawks scored 14 points.

William & Mary did not react well to a full court press the Seahawks used against the team early on in the game. Tribe players were consistently trapped and turning the ball over while attempting to break out of their own end. A few teams have done this very well against the Tribe this season, and W&M has yet to figure out how to stay calm when under the fire of a full court press. This may be something for the squad to work on in the final weeks of CAA play before the conference tournament begins.

Another problem for William & Mary came in the form of defensive rebounding. With junior Sean Sheldon back, but playing limited minutes, the Seahawks had several second chance opportunities as they consistently snagged rebounds on the Tribe’s end of the court. In the first half alone, UNCW finished with 10 second chance points. But although William & Mary turned the ball over 16 times in the first half, cold shooting by the UNCW Seahawks kept the Tribe in the game.

UNCW only shot a mere 25.7% field goal percentage in the first half as the Tribe continued to commit turnover after turnover. Had UNCW been able to capitalize on these opportunities, W&M would likely have been put away very early in the contest. You can chalk it up to good defense, plain old luck, or a mix of both– but the Tribe was able to escape the first half down just 26-29 inside the Seahawks’ sold out stadium.

In the second half, the game continued to be close. However, the Tribe stopped turning the ball over and was able to play a little more consistently on the offensive end. As opposed to the first half, where the Seahawks were able to score 14 points off of Tribe turnovers, UNCW scored only 2 points off of turnovers in the entire second half. Whatever head coach Tony Shaver said to the boys during halftime seemed to work well.

UNCW continued their cold shooting, shooting just 32.3% on field goals in the second half. William & Mary consistently switched between a 3-2 zone, 2-3 zone, and man defense throughout the contest. This strategy seemed to work very well against the Seahawks, who were obviously caught off guard. The Tribe’s constantly shifting defensive scheme proved to be a great decision by Tony Shaver during this win for the Tribe.

Senior Tom Schalk has come alive in the second half of his Senior season (Source: Peter Aiken/Getty Images North America)
#43 Senior Tom Schalk has come into his own during the second half of his Senior season (Source: Peter Aiken/Getty Images North America)

Offensively, Tom Schalk provided the spark in the post that W&M needed to pull away from the Seahawks. Schalk finished with a career high 13 points on 5-7 shooting, and added 5 rebounds. He would put the Tribe ahead for good with a put back layup with just under two minutes to go. Senior guard Marcus Thornton was fairly consistent throughout the entire game, and finished with 18 points on 6-11 shooting. No one else on the team was able to get into much of a rhythm, and none other than Schalk and Thornton finished with more than 8 points in this scrappy contest.

With just under 6 minutes left in the game, Daniel Dixon connected on a 3 point attempt that would end up being the Tribe’s only 3 of the night. W&M connected on a mere 1-11 three point shots in the entire contest–something unheard of for the team this season. But despite the woes on both side of the court, William & Mary led by Schalk and Thornton, got the job done. The team was able to grit it out and pull away in the end, 56-53. This was a true test for the team, and will likely prove them well down the road and into CAA tournament play.

With 6 tough games still ahead for William & Mary, the team must be on top of their game each night if they want to keep the first place spot in the CAA.

Road Ahead

elon
February 11 vs. Elon – The Tribe will take on an Elon team to start a two game home stand. W&M already lost to Elon earlier in the season 85-79 off of some hot shooting by the Phoenix’s Elijah Bryant. William & Mary will look to contain Elon’s scorers and end with a different result this time around.

delaware
February 14 vs. Delaware – The second of the two game home stand pits the Tribe vs. the Blue Hens. Again, William & Mary will be facing a team they lost to earlier in the season. The Tribe will have to contain Delaware’s Kyle Anderson a lot better this time around, as he got hot at the end last game and propelled his team to victory. [This game will also be played on Valentine’s Day, as free “I Heart Tribe Hoops” Towels and free T-Shirts will be distributed during the game! Be sure to be there!]

northeastern
February 18 @ Northeastern
– Earlier in the season, Northeastern looked to be the conference favorites. They knocked off Florida State in out of conference play, and were on a tear in the CAA. They have come back down to earth during CAA play since then, but are still a great team very capable of winning the conference. William & Mary will have to secure another victory on the road against a very good Huskies team that is currently just one game behind W&M in the overall standings.

hofstra
February 22 @ Hofstra
– Although the Tribe blew out the Pride (pun intended) by dropping 100 on them earlier in the season, this is still a Hofstra team that is just two games out of first place in the CAA. Hofstra, along with W&M and Northeastern, was picked in the preseason to finish as one of the top three teams in the CAA. The Pride will look to uphold that prediction, and attempt to finish first in the league. W&M will need to step up their play on the road to beat Northeastern and Hofstra in back to back road games.

Towson
February 25 vs. Towson
: The Tribe had no problem the last time these two faced off in Maryland, as 5 W&M players finished with double digit point totals. Since then, Towson has again proven that any CAA team can win on any given night, as they took down Hofstra 86-72. However, William & Mary should not lose this game, especially at home in front of the raucous Kaplan Krazies.
[MARK YOUR CALENDARS: Depending on how many he points he drops over the next few games, Senior guard Marcus Thornton may set the all-time William & Mary scoring record at home in one of the final two home games vs. Towson and Drexel…secure your tickets now].

drexel 2
February 28 vs. Drexel
: The last home game of the year will be against the surprising Drexel Dragons. Since W&M trounced the Dragons 73-47 in their second CAA game of the year, Drexel has amassed a very impressive 7-5 CAA record and stands just 2 games out of first place in the league. Drexel is very much still in the hunt, especially with their very own Damion Lee leading the CAA in scoring, averaging 21.0 points per game.

Conclusion

We here at the Blog truly believe that W&M can win every game left on the schedule. It will likely prove to be an incredibly hard task, especially with all the parity in the CAA this season. The two toughest matchups will likely come on the road at Northeastern and at Hofstra in back to back games. The Tribe will need to prove their mettle in February game in and game out if they wish to become the first team in William & Mary history to make the NCAA tournament. We believe.

LET’S GO TRIBE!!!

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