WILLIAMSBURG — Too many times this season, William & Mary let what had been a tight game at the 5-minute mark slip away. But with seeding for the conference tournament on the line, the Tribe took control down the stretch and finished off a 74-62 win over Monmouth Saturday afternoon at Kaplan Arena.
Instead of winding up in the play-in game of next week’s CAA Tournament, its worst-case scenario going in, W&M secured either the No. 8 or 9 seed and will open in Saturday’s second round against Elon. The Tribe (12-19, 7-11) closed the regular season with back-to-back wins at home, both by double digits.
W&M didn’t get off to a great start on either end of the floor. The Tribe led by two points with 7:24 remaining but outscored the Hawks 19-9 the rest of the way.
“I was really pleased with the way we stuck together and played down the stretch,” Tribe coach Dane Fischer said. “I thought for a lot of the game, we were a little jittery. We just missed some open layups and had some uncharacteristic turnovers.
“I thought we settled in and played better as the game went on. … To have won two in a row heading into the conference tournament is great. And it’s great to win the final home game for our seniors.”
All four of the Tribe’s seniors — Chris Mullins, Miguel Ayesa, Ben Wight and Anders Nelson — played a big role in the win. Mullins finished with 15 points, his second-highest total of the season, along with two assists and two steals. Ayesa matched that on 5-of-13 shooting from the 3-point arc.
Wight ended up with 12 points, seven of which came in the final 5:44, five rebounds and three assists. Nelson was held to two points but contributed four assists, four rebounds and two steals.
Matteus Case, a sophomore transfer from Providence, stuffed the stat sheet with 13 points, six rebounds, three assists and two steals. And junior Jake Milkereit scored nine points, six coming on a pair of huge 3-pointers in the second half, off the bench.
After trailing by five points with 13:40 remaining in the game, Milkereit almost single-handedly erased that with 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions. William & Mary led 55-53 as the 7-minute mark approached, a lead that hardly looked safe.
But freshman Jack Karasinski knocked down a 3-pointer off an assist from Nelson, and Mullins converted a layup off a steal. Wight then scored in the post, and with 5:44 remaining W&M had its biggest lead at 62-53.
Those were the first two of seven consecutive points Wight would score for the Tribe, capped by a layup that made it 67-57 with 2:53 left. W&M sealed it by makings seven of its last eight free throw attempts, the perfect way to close out a win.
“Early on, we didn’t have the best way of closing,” Mullins said. “But as the season went on, we got better and better at it. We take pride in finishing out to the best of our capabilities.”
A big factor was Fischer’s switch to a zone defense to combat Monmouth’s inside strength. In the second half, the Hawks’ first seven baskets were at the rim. Forwards Myles Foster (6-foot-7, 235 pounds) and Klemen Vuga (6-9, 230) were a load.
The zone slowed that down. In fact, Monmouth’s last basket at point-blank range came with 7:24 remaining.
“Foster and Vuga are tough matchups and they played really well today,” Fischer said. “We struggled keeping it out of there, we struggled when they caught it, and we put them on the foul line a ton.
“So one of the ways we tried to negate the post was playing zone. And those guys didn’t get a lot of touches on the block when we were in the zone.”
“We know we have some guys out, but a lot of guys are stepping up for us right now,” Case said. “We know this is the time of year you want to play your best basketball. We feel like we are.
“All the guys in the locker room have one common goal right now, and that’s win games. I like the way we’re headed right now.”