If asked to name the best shooting team in men’s college basketball, a safe answer might be number one ranked Villanova or number three Virginia.
The actual answer going into Saturday was the William & Mary Tribe, ranked number one in free-throw percentage (81.8%) and three-point percentage (45.2%) and number nine in field-goal percentage (51.2%).
Those stats alone are a good reason for the Tribe’s top spot in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) with a 5-0 conference record. But if they face an opponent who shoots better than all three of those percentages in one game, it is hard to deny their accomplishment.
The Towson Tigers came into Kaplan Arena tied for seventh in the CAA with a 2-3 record, but Tribe coach Tony Shaver knew they were a lot better than that. When they left around three hours later, having delivered an overall field-goal percentage of 64.4%, it was a bus full of happy Tigers returning to Maryland with a stunning 99-73 victory.
An Auspicious Beginning
Tribe forward Nathan Knight started with characteristic dominance, scoring seven of the Tribe’s ten points, grabbing two rebound and blocking a shot, putting William & Mary up 10-5 five minutes into the game.
At the eleven-minute mark, William & Mary added to the lead off 70% shooting, Nathan Knight had already been to the foul line to make six of seven free-throws, and senior guard David Cohn added four three-pointers. The Tribe was in a good groove. Eigth fouls and three turnovers added to the Tigers’ early woes.
But at the 3:20 mark of the first half, a spectator who couldn’t see the scoreboard would be forgiven for assuming that William & Mary had widened the lead to double digits. With Cohn hitting two more three-pointers for a total of 18 points and the Tribe still firing on all cylinders, it required a double take to see that Towson had quietly, effectively narrowed the gap to three points.
The Tiger’s senior guard Brian Starr combined with the frequently high scoring sophomore Zane Martin for a combination of 22 points, but plenty of other Tigers were adding value.
Even more alarming was the foul situation. While Towson had racked up nine fouls to that point in the half, the Tribe had eght fouls of their own, including three on both Paul Rowley and Nathan Knight, who took a seat on the bench for the rest of the half.
The Tipping Point
It was near the end of the first half when Knight’s third foul marked a seismic shift in momentum, as the Towson Tigers shook the arena with 11 points in two and a half minutes. The halftime buzzer couldn’t come fast enough for the Tribe, as David Cohn slipped and fell to the floor on a drive to the basket and turned over the ball to Towson. Astonishingly the half ended with the Tigers in the lead 49-43.
A high flying half-time show was a welcome distraction for the crowd of nearly 4,000 fans at Kaplan Arena.
As the second half got underway, Nathan Knight was on the floor, and needed to be, but his foul situation was on both teams’ minds, and it was clear that Knight was irresolute to follow his missed shots for the rebound, for fear of picking up a fourth foul.
With 13:33 remaining, Tribe forward Justin Pierce picked up his third foul while the Tigers upped their lead to ten points. A couple of missed opportunities by the green and gold and an astounding 64% shooting percentage put Towson in a comfortable lead of 17 points, 72-55.
With three of William & Mary’s big men in foul trouble, the team’s rebounding, an important contributor to their early-game dominance, had diminished.
Slipping under ten minutes in the second half, a missed three-point try by Cohn was answered with a fast break by the Tigers resulting in a well-executed alley-oop. As Tribe coach Tony Shaver called a timeout with 9:27 to go and a 79-55 Tiger lead, there was loud clapping from only one small section of Kaplan Arena, the Towson bench.
There would be no miracle comeback for this game, as Towson continued their excellent shooting and hard play to the end, despite a resilient Tribe squad trying their best to make a dent in the lead.
The game ended in a 99-73 victory for Towson.
After the game, Coach Tony Shaver was disappointed in the play of his team but mindful of a quality Towson basketball team.
“They’re one of the best teams in the league,” said Shaver. It’s surprising they lost three games, but that shows you how good our league is.”
William & Mary will take on Northeastern at home on Thursday, January 18th. The game is at 7:00 p.m.