Friday, April 12, 2024

Wight, Ayesa lead Tribe past Elon 73-60

(Tribe Athletics)

WILLIAMSBURG — After playing four games in a span of eight days, three of them on the road, William & Mary finally got a little time off. Back home at Kaplan Arena Thursday night, with positioning in the standings of the utmost importance, the Tribe came out rested and ready.

With Ben Wight playing his best basketball of the season and Miguel Ayesa shaking a mini-slump with a career night, W&M picked up a 73-60 win over red hot Elon (8-22, 6-11 CAA). It was the Tribe’s 10th win at home this season, and it came against a team that had won six of its last eight.

Wight led W&M (11-19, 6-11 CAA) with 17 points — his fifth consecutive game in double figures — and seven rebounds along with three assists. Ayesa, who was 0-for-9 in his previous two games, finished with 15 points (a career high against an NCAA team) on 5-of-11 shooting from 3.

Anders Nelson had 12 points, five assists and no turnovers in 35 minutes. Anders Nelson just missed a double-double with 10 points and a career-high eight rebounds. Chris Mullins finished with eight points and four steals.

All nine players who entered the game scored at least two points and all but one had a rebound. With starters Gabe Dorsey and Noah Collier each missing their fifth consecutive game with injuries, that kind of all-around production was needed.

“Everyone knows we’re down a couple of guys now, and we talked about the opportunity everyone has to come in and make plays when it’s their time,” W&M coach Dane Fischer said. “We used Ben Wight as the example. He’s playing at a really high level right now doing what he does really well.

“He’s not playing outside of himself, anything like that. That was really the message to the guys. When you’re in the game, do what you do really well.”

In his last four games, Wight is averaging 18.3 points on 59% shooting (27-of-46).

“You want to be playing your best basketball later in the year to get momentum moving forward,” Wight said. “I just do what I do and be aggressive with it.”

With several family members on hand — they were the ones waving the Spanish flag in the stands — Ayesa checked into the game with 17:23 remaining in the first half. Exactly one minute later, he knocked down his first attempt, a 3-pointer from the right side.

“That’s what I do — I shoot,” Ayesa said. “I had a pretty good week of practice just going back to basics, getting shots up after practice and getting my rhythm back. It always feels better when you’re shooting at home in front of your crowd.

“And to have my family come by today was fun. Good energy.”

Two of Ayesa’s five 3-pointers were turning points.

The first came just after Elon’s Zac Ervin hit a 3 after an offensive rebound to cut what had been a 12-point lead to 35-30. The Phoenix used one of its fouls to give with 4.8 seconds left, and Fischer called his use-it-or-lose-it timeout.

Inbounding from the left sideline just past midcourt, the strategy was to inbounds to Nelson. He would drive in the direction of Ayesa’s defender as Ayesa looped behind him to get open.

The only issue was that Ayesa was at least 26 feet from the rim when he caught Nelson’s dish. Which turned out to be no issue. Ayesa’s fourth 3-pointer of the half gave W&M a 38-30 lead and a boost of momentum at the break.

“It came out pretty good, I think,” Ayesa said of Fischer’s play.

If that wasn’t his biggest 3 of the night, it came with 3:38 remaining in the game. Elon had cut W&M’s lead to 57-53, and the Tribe had gone nearly four minutes without a point. But Ayesa got open in the left corner, Mullins found him, and the lead was 60-53.

“We keep telling him, ‘Keep shooting, keep shooting, keep shooting,'” Fischer said. “He’s one of the best shooters I’ve ever been around, ever coached.”

The Tribe has had issues putting games away this season, but not this time. After Ayesa’s 3, W&M went 8-of-10 from the free throw line, didn’t commit a turnover, and didn’t allow a Phoenix 3-pointer.

“We did a good job down the stretch tonight,” Fischer said. “I thought we had a pretty disciplined group out there defensively tonight.”

The win moved W&M into a four-way tie for the 8 through 11 seeds in the CAA tournament, which begins Friday in Washington. The Tribe closes the regular season Saturday at home against Monmouth (6-24, 5-12).

“This was a big one for us against a team that’s playing very well right now in Elon,” Fischer said. “We’ve got a great opportunity on Saturday in hosting Monmouth.”

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