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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Tribe shows its grit in 68-66 upset win over Towson

(Tribe Athletics)

WILLIAMSBURG — Maybe William & Mary has played better this season. But there’s no way it has played any grittier.

Down two starters and a key reserve, the Tribe battled for 40 minutes and upset pre-season favorite Towson 68-66 Monday night at Kaplan Arena. It ended a four-game skid for W&M, which began with a 19-point road loss to the Tigers on Jan. 28.

Anders Nelson knocked down two free throws with 1.4 seconds remaining as W&M overcame a four-point deficit in the final 2:05.

“This was certainly a gritty win for us,” Tribe coach Dane Fischer said. “We were down (three) guys, and obviously we had not been on a roll. For us to be able to stick together and for these guys to play the way they did tonight, that’s not easy to do this late in the year when things haven’t been going like we want them to.

“I was really pleased with the collective effort from our team. Everybody who was on the floor tonight contributed. The guys who were unavailable tonight or didn’t get in the game were phenomenal from yesterday’s practice to the way they were on the bench. Great contributions from everyone.”

Nobody was better than Ben Wight, who finished with 20 points — his highest-scoring game in CAA play — on 7-of-11 shooting. Sophomore Matteus Case had 11 points and four assists, both career highs, and forced Cam Holden into a difficult shot on Towson’s next-to-last possession.

Nelson finished with nine points, four rebounds and four assists. Miguel Ayesa also had nine points on three jumpers from behind the arc. Freshman Jack Karasinski matched eight points with a career-high eight rebounds. And Chris Mullins’ drive to the basket tied the game with 35.9 seconds left.

“We had numerous guys step up tonight and make huge plays for us,” Nelson said. “Literally top to bottom, I could name everybody on the roster and tell you how proud I am of them and how excited I am to see everybody make those contributions.”

Missing starters Gabe Dorsey and Noah Collier and reserve Jake Milkereit, W&M was a 10½-point underdog. But the Tribe led much of the way and never lost its composure, not even when the Tigers (17-10, 9-5) took a 66-62 lead with 2:05 remaining.

Ten seconds later, the Tribe answered with a layup by Mullins to cut the deficit in half. After an exchange of scoreless possessions, Towson’s Nicholas Timberlake missed a 3-pointer. Nelson rebounded, and W&M called a timeout with 41.4 remaining and 25 seconds on the shot clock.

Fischer’s strategy was to go two-for-one, and Mullins took Timberlake to the rim for a layup to tie the game with 35.9 seconds left.

“We tried to go as quickly as we could,” Fischer said, “and we thought we had a good matchup for Chris.”

After a timeout, Towson got the ball to Holden, who was one-on-one with Case. He ended up having to take a turn-around jumper from the right elbow, which missed. Karasinski corralled the rebound and quickly got the ball to Nelson, who pushed it up the floor.

As Nelson neared the 3-point line, he was bumped by Timberlake and fell to the floor with 1.4 seconds left. An 80% shooter, he made both free throws.

“I was just running down the floor as fast as I possibly could,” Nelson said. “I was looking to maybe get in the paint — I knew I had Matteus on my left and Chris on my right, and they were both screaming for it. I was looking to kick it to one of those guys.

“But before I could get the ball out of my hands, I ended up on the floor. A fortunate play at the end, for sure.”

With the length of the floor to go, Towson got a break when the pass was deflected out of bounds by Mullins just past midcourt with eight-tenths of a second remaining. Tigers coach Pat Skerry drew up the perfect play — a lob inbounds pass from Holden to Timberlake near the rim.

The execution was nearly perfect, but Timberlake’s tip bounced off the backboard.

“We needed this one, so we came with a lot of energy,” Wight said. “It’s a huge win for us.”

Maybe one that can build some momentum for the home stretch.

“At this point of the year, you just need one win to get your team going,” Nelson said. “There are a lot of ups and downs during the course of a season, and the main goal is to be playing your best basketball at the end of the year.”

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