WILLIAMSBURG — Nine and a half minutes into its annual Gold Rush Game Saturday afternoon, William & Mary had one basket, six turnovers, and trailed by 13 points. There are worse ways to start a game, but not many.
The Tribe came to and actually put itself in position to win. But the hole was too deep, and the Seahawks too good, to avoid a 70-63 loss at Kaplan Arena.
After falling behind 15-2 to start the game, W&M (6-19, 4-8 CAA) cut Wilmington’s lead to three at halftime behind Tyler Rice and Jake Milkereit off the bench. It was a five-point game with 3:27 left, but UNCW closed it out by scoring two points on five of its last six possessions.
“I was really proud of the way our team battled back today after getting off to a really slow start,” W&M coach Dane Fischer said. “The biggest reason why we did that was Tyler Rice and Jake Milkereit off the bench. They were phenomenal today and really gave us a spark.
“It was a back-and-forth second half. We fouled them away from the ball, three times I believe, in a row. They made their free throws down the stretch and we just couldn’t get over the hump.”
Graduate guard Chris Mullins was the Tribe’s top scorer with a season-high 19 points on 5-of-8 shooting, 7-of-8 from the free throw line. He even knocked down two 3-pointers.
But it was Rice, who had only played 24 minutes since Nov. 29, who was instrumental in turning the game around. Using his quickness to get to the rim, he finished with a season-high 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting. W&M outscored UNCW by three in the 22½ minutes Rice was on the floor.
“Tyler’s been awesome through this whole stretch here,” Fischer said. “He’s been really practicing better and he’s defended better. I talked to him before and said, ‘We’re going to go with you today,’ so he was ready to go. And he went out and played terrific basketball for us.
“I thought we had a good way about us with those three guards (Rice, Mullins and Anders Nelson) out there. That’s what gave us our best look.”
Milkereit came off the bench to score nine points on 4-of-6 shooting in 15 minutes. Nelson and Gabe Dorsey each finished with six points.
Despite missing nine of its first 10 attempts, William & Mary shot 50% for the game. The Tribe was 6-of-17 from the 3-point arc. W&M finished with 15 turnovers, 10 of which came in the first 6½ minutes of the two halves.
W&M was 13-of-16 from the free throw line. The 13 makes were the Tribe’s most since Jan. 14, when it went 19-of-28 in a 69-67 win at UNC Wilmington.
“That’s important in every game, but even more so against this team because of the way they play it,” Fischer said about getting to the line. “They want to guard the ball and make you make tough shots around the rim.
“That was the biggest reason we went to the three-guard lineup because those guys can handle it and get in the paint. Tyler was leading the charge on that.”
The attendance of 5,053 at Kaplan was a season high.
“Great crowd today,” Fischer said. “Unbelievable energy.”
William & Mary will not have a Wednesday or Thursday game this week for the first time since the conference schedule started. The Tribe’s next game is Saturday at Elon.