Balanced Scoring Propels Tribe Men’s Basketball Past JMU in CAA Quarterfinals

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Omar Prewitt scored a game-high 25 points for the Tribe. (Ty Hodges/WYDaily)
Omar Prewitt scored a game-high 25 points for the Tribe. (Ty Hodges/WYDaily)

BALTIMORE — William & Mary Men’s Basketball Coach Tony Shaver cited two specific areas at which the Tribe excelled during Saturday’s 79-64 victory against James Madison University during the quarterfinal round of the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament: toughness and strong bench play.

Toughness was displayed as the undersized Tribe out-rebounded a taller, more physical JMU team by a margin of 35-33. And when they needed it the most, the Tribe tallied timely points from reserve players such as David Cohn, Connor Burchfield, Jack Whitman and Greg Malinowski.

Altogether, William & Mary formed the perfect storm to take down a JMU team that beat them 71-65 on Feb. 27 to end the regular season.

That loss to JMU stung for the Tribe, but it yielded some exceedingly valuable game film to analyze heading into the CAA Tournament.

“We made a conscious effort to get the ball inside,” Shaver said after Saturday’s win. “It wasn’t just getting the ball to post players.”

Instead, William & Mary’s offense featured a heavy dose of guards and smaller forward cutting along the baseline and getting open looks from behind the JMU defense. The biggest beneficiary from the strategy was Omar Prewitt, who scored a game-high 25 points for the Tribe.

But it wasn’t just Prewitt who thrived against the Dukes. Rather, three other William & Mary players — Sean Sheldon (11), Burchfield (11) and Cohn (10) — all recorded solid performances during the game.

The game started inauspiciously for the Tribe, who fell behind 6-1 in the first four minutes of play, as JMU dominated the paint early. That five-point deficit was as far behind as William & Mary fell during the game.

From there, the Tribe reeled off a 20-0 run that spanned more than 10 minutes. During that stretch, Sheldon paced the Tribe with five points, while Malinowski and Whitman each scored four points. Oliver Tot logged three points, and Tarpey and Prewitt each chipped in two points.

This stretch of scoring encapsulated William & Mary’s balanced scoring throughout the game. In total, the Tribe earned points from eight players.

“We have a lot of bench players who could be starters on other teams,” Prewitt said. “When you put them in, you don’t lose much.”

By the time the dust settled, the Tribe held a commanding 21-6 lead over the Dukes with 6:55 remaining in the opening half. William & Mary’s lead grew to as much as 19 points in the first half, but a 3-pointer by JMU’s Kent Jackson with 25 seconds left in the half cut the Tribe’s lead to 16 points heading into the break.

The second half was anything but comfortable for William & Mary, however. After going 1-for-12 from the 3-point line in the first half, JMU decided to attack the heart of William & Mary’s 3-2 zone defense.

After scoring four points in the first half, JMU’s Ron Curry began heating up in the second half and helped bring the Dukes within striking distance of the Tribe. Curry finished the game with 20 points and 11 rebounds.

The Dukes came within 12 points of the Tribe, but a quick five points from Burchfield helped William & Mary extend its lead back to 19 points with 9:40 left.

Getting into the bonus early, JMU was able to drive the lane and earn foul shots that stopped the clock and helped close the deficit. Slowly, but surely, the Dukes pulled within 13 points of William & Mary before back-to-back 3-pointers by Joey McLean brought JMU within single digits for the first time since 10:12 remaining in the first half.

William & Mary watched its lead dwindle down to five points with 1:36 left in the game. Just as the momentum seemed to belong to the Dukes, McLean fouled Cohn while trying to defend the Tribe from in-bounding the ball. Cohn stepped to the free throw line and sank both to extend William & Mary’s lead to seven points.

JMU missed a 3-pointer on its next possession, which forced the Dukes to foul Tarpey as soon as he grabbed the rebound. Another pair of made free throws essentially put the game out of reach for the Dukes, whose comeback attempt fell short as the Tribe was able to close out the game with solid free throw shooting: the Tribe connected on 23-of-25 free throws in the game.

William & Mary won’t have long to enjoy its victory as the Tribe will now prepare to take on top-seeded Hofstra, which swept the Tribe in the regular season, during a semifinal showdown Sunday. The opening tip is slated for 1 p.m.