“Our heart and soul.”
That’s how Justin Pierce described teammate and two-year captain Paul Rowley after William & Mary’s 71-63 Senior Day win over UNCW. While Rowley’s stat line won’t draw eyes, his impact on Saturday, and throughout the season, was as big as his smile.
When junior center Nathan Knight, who was coming off a school-record three-straight 30-point games, went to the bench after fouling out with 3:06 remaining, the Tribe turned to Rowley, and he, along with Pierce, made the big plays down the stretch to preserve the win. Rowley blocked two of UNCW’s final four shots, and Pierce scored five points to go with three rebounds and a steal over the final 1:53.
After UNCW (9-21, 5-12 CAA) closed to within one, 62-61, Pierce came off a Rowley screen and drove the right side of the lane for a lay-up. The Seahawks turned to the post and big man Devontae Cacok. Despite being out out-weighed by 40 pounds, Rowley blocked Cacok’s lay-up attempt. On the other end, Pierce canned a top-of-the-key 3-pointer with 1:08 left to cap a personal five-point spurt and give W&M all it needed for the Senior Day win.
Junior Matt Milon finished with 19 points on 7-of-12 shooting to lead W&M, while Knight added 18 in just 22 minutes of action due to foul trouble. Pierce turned in an impressive stat line with 14 points, nine rebounds, six assists and three steals. Rowley celebrated his final game in Kaplan Arena with five points, three rebounds, two steals and two blocked shots.
The Tribe shook off a slow start and used a 17-2 run to open up as much as a 13-point first-half advantage. Pierce’s cutting lay-up with 1:15 remaining in the first half extended the Green and Gold lead to 37-24.
W&M led by as much as 12, 52-40, in the final 20 minutes following five-straight Milon points. The Seahawks would not go quietly, using a 10-0 run, including back-to-back 3-pointers from Jay Estime’ and Jaylen Simms, to close to within 52-50 with 7:10 left.
How It Happened
– Gadsen scored eight of UNCW’s first 10 points. After W&M used a 7-0 run to move in front early, the Seahawks answered with eight straight. Gadsen scored the final six of the run with a 3-pointer and a trio of free throws to give the visitor a 10-7 lead with 15:36 left.
– Five different Tribe players scored as part of an 11-0 run to put the home team on top for good. Knight tipped in his own miss to pull W&M even at 22 before freshman Chase Audige found junior Luke Loewe on the break for an easy two to give the Tribe the lead. Milon capped the run with a right with a right-wing 3-pointer to extend the margin to 31-22 and force a UNCW timeout with 4:03 left in the first half.
– Three-straight lay-ups from Knight, freshman L.J. Owens and Pierce pushed the Green and Gold run to 17-2. Pierce’s cutting bucket at the 1:15 mark gave W&M a 37-24 lead and forced another Seahawks timeout.
– Simms and Kai Toews hit heavily-contested 3-pointers on UNCW’s final two possessions to cut the gap to 37-30 at the intermission.
– W&M scored on its opening two possessions in the second half to push the lead back to 11 and force a UNCW timeout less than a minute into the frame. Audige scored on a fastbreak lay-up, and Knight added a dunk to push the lead to 41-30 at the 19:16 mark.
– The Seahawks responded by scoring seven of the game’s next eight points to close within five. Toews tallied four during the spurt, and his putback at the 15:37 mark cut the margin to 42-37.
– Five-straight Milon points extended the Tribe lead back to double-digits midway through the period. He knocked down a 3-pointer before his leaner in the lane gave W&M a 52-40 advantage with 10:42 remaining.
– UNCW used a 10-0 to close the gap to 52-50 with 7:10 left. Estime’ and Simms hit back-to-back 3-pointers to cut it to a two-point game.
– With the Tribe leading 62-60, Knight was whistled for his fifth personal foul on a rebound, and at the same time, head coach Tony Shaver was given a technical. Gadsen made just 1-of-2 on the technical foul shots, and Cacok missed both of his chances in the double bonus.
– W&M ended the game on a 9-2 run to pull out the victory. Pierce scored five-straight to push the margin to six with just over a minute remaining. He drove the right side of the lane for a lay-up before knocking down a top-of-the-key 3-pointer to give W&M a 67-61 lead with just 1:08 left.
– Milon added a pair of free throws after a UNCW bucket, and Loewe put the finishing touches on a victory with a fastbreak dunk off a Seahawks missed 3-pointer with 20 seconds remaining.
Inside the Numbers
– W&M shot 50 percent from the floor in both halves and finished the game at 51.9 percent (28-of-54) overall.
– The Green and Gold limited UNCW to just 40 percent (22-of-55) shooting on the day. Wilmington connected on 9-of-25 (36 percent) from 3-point range.
– The Tribe outrebounded the Seahawks, 34-30.
– W&M outscored UNCW, 44-22, in the paint, while the Seahawks held a 27-15 advantage in beyond the 3-point arc.
– The Green and Gold forced UNCW into 20 turnovers and outscored the Seahawks, 16-15, in points off turnovers.
The Tribe recorded double-digit steals for the third-straight game finishing with 10 … W&M shot 50 percent from the floor for the fourth time in the last six contests and the second-straight game this week … With his 18 points, junior Nathan Knight became the 13th player in W&M history with 1,400 career points … Knight also became the 19th player in program history with 600 rebounds surpassing the mark with his six on Saturday … He is only the seventh player in W&M history with 1,400 career points and 600 career rebounds … Knight moved into eighth place on the single-season scoring list with 582 … Freshman Chase Audige picked up his 43rd steal of the season, which is the third-best total for a rookie in W&M history … With his three 3-pointers on the day, junior Matt Milon increased his season total to 80, which ranks sixth in program history.
– The Tribe wraps up the regular season with road games at Towson on Thursday, Feb. 28, at 7 p.m. and in Harrisonburg, Va., against James Madison on Saturday, March 2, at 4 p.m.
– The W&M-Towson game will be on College Sports Live as part of the CAA’s digital Game of the Week package, while Saturday’s contest will be available on CAA.TV.
– Tribe fans can catch the men’s basketball action over the Tribe Radio Network with Jay Colley and Charlie Woollum on the call. The Tide 92.3 FM and 107.9 Bach FM are the flagship stations of the Tribe Radio Network and the audio is also available over the Web at TribeAthletics.com.
Fans will have a pair of opportunities to catch up on Tribe basketball to start next week with the return of both the Chesapeake Bank Tony ShaverShow on Monday, Feb. 25, and the final ‘Luncheon with Tony’ event of the season on Tuesday, Feb. 26.
The ‘Luncheon with Tony’ event featuring head coach Tony Shaver is held at Anna’s Brick Oven and gives fans an inside look at Tribe basketball. The luncheon will include a buffet for $13.50. Anna’s Brick Oven is located at 2021 Richmond Road in Williamsburg. The ‘Luncheon with Tony’ series provides fans the opportunity to get Coach Shaver’s thoughts on the Tribe’s season and upcoming games as well as talk W&M basketball with select Tribe players and the Green and Gold coaching staff.
The Chesapeake Bank Tony Shaver Show begins on-site at 6:30 p.m., with the live interview airing from 7-7:30 p.m. Longtime Tribe play-by-play announcer Jay Colley hosts the broadcast from Paul’s Deli at 761 Scotland Street in Williamsburg. The Chesapeake Bank Tony Shaver Show can be heard over the flagship stations of the Tribe Radio Network at 92.3 FM The Tide and 107.9 Bach FM. It will be streamed online at TribeAthletics.com as well. Click HERE to listen to the Feb. 25 show live online