Friday, January 27, 2023

W&M Rallies Late Behind Strong Defense, Free Throw Shooting at Drexel

(Courtesy W&M Athletics)
(Courtesy W&M Athletics)

In the first eight games of his freshman season, William & Mary’s Connor Kochera had attempted 10 free throws. In the Tribe’s 69-64 win over Drexel Sunday in Philadelphia, the charity stripe became his second home.

Kochera went 14-of-16 from the line, all coming in the game’s final 17 minutes, and scored a career-high 26 points to lead W&M’s comeback. The Tribe (4-6, 2-3 Colonial Athletic Association) trailed 61-52 with 4:07 remaining but outscored the Dragons 17-3 the rest of the way.

Amazingly, the Tribe was able to come back from that nine-point deficit despite not making a field goal in the game’s final 7 minutes and 35 seconds. W&M did it by going 19-of-24 from the free throw line in that stretch.

It left for a much better feeling than after Saturday’s 82-58 loss at the Daskalakis Athletic Center.

“That was certainly a great win for us to beat a good team on their home floor,” W&M coach Dane Fischer said. “After the way we played yesterday, I think this showed a lot of character for our guys. We talked a lot this morning before the game about making sure we go play the right way.

“Yesterday, we just didn’t look like we had it and we had a lot of self-inflicted wounds. That was a big thing we wanted to clean up today.”

In Saturday’s loss, W&M was done in largely by two stretches in which it was outscored 34-4. Sunday, though it played from behind most of the day, the Tribe never let the Dragons take over.

Not even when James Butler’s reverse layup gave Drexel a 61-52 lead with 4:07 remaining. That would be the Dragons’ last basket of the day.

On three consecutive possessions, Kochera went 2-for-2 from the free throw line, which cut Drexel’s lead to 61-58. Then Loewe made a pair, and then Kochera knocked down two more. Just like that, the Tribe had erased a nine-point lead and led 62-61 with 1:18 remaining.

Loewe (16 points) and Kochera then combined to strip the ball from Drexel’s Camren Wynter. Kochera went 1-for-2, but the Tribe’s Mehkel Harvey rebounded the miss. He then split a pair, putting W&M up 64-61 with 56 seconds left.

It was 66-61 when Kochera made one of his few mistakes of the day by fouling the 3-point shooter. Zach Walton went 3-of-3, which made it a one-possession game with 15 seconds left. Kochera then made a pair from the line to seal it.

Drexel missed its final seven shots and eight of its last nine.

“We were doing a good job offensively of trying to get to the rim,” Fischer said. “They play really physical and try to deny your cuts. You’ve got to be able to take that contact and get yourself to the rim. We certainly did a good job of that.”

Before Sunday’s game, the most free throw attempts Kochera had in a game was two.

“He’s really good driving the ball and initiating contact, so it’s a little surprising he hasn’t been there as much,” Fischer said. “He is one of our better free throw shooters. His numbers to this point didn’t indicate it, but 14-of-16, that’ll help him.”

After giving up 61-percent shooting from the field Saturday, the Tribe held Drexel to 35 percent on Sunday. That’s a season-best for the Tribe’s defense.

W&M will host Charleston (5-8, 3-3) Saturday and Sunday at 1 p.m. The Cougars were swept by Northeastern this weekend by scores of 67-62 and 68-66.

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