Tuesday, August 16, 2022

W&M edges Towson on Connor Kochera’s late basket

(Courtesy William & Mary)
(Courtesy William & Mary)

The weather up and down I-95 was brutal. But for William & Mary, the trip home from Baltimore promised to be considerably more tolerable.

Playing from behind for most of Sunday afternoon, the Tribe rallied down the stretch for a 75-74 win over Towson. Connor Kochera’s layup with 13 seconds remaining gave W&M (6-7, 4-4 Colonial Athletic Association) the lead for good, and Luke Loewe forced a fade-away miss by Zane Martin at the horn.

Kochera had a career day with 30 points, the most by a W&M freshman in nearly 20 years, on 12-of-19 shooting and 12 rebounds. That followed a 23-point performance Saturday, so you can bank on Kochera being named the CAA’s Rookie of the Week.

Loewe finished with 20 points, nine in the final 7½ minutes, and was 8-of-14. He also put the clamps on Martin, who scored 18 points on 20 shots but had none in the final 2:28.

“Obviously, Connor Kochera was tremendous all weekend,” W&M coach Dane Fischer said. “He made a lot of winning plays for us.

“And Luke Loewe made the big stop at the end against a really good one-on-one player in Zane Martin. We’re pleased with the result.”

Also coming up big was freshman Yuri Covington, who played five scoreless minutes in the first half because of foul trouble. In the final 20 minutes, he had 11 points, four rebounds, and two assists.

And it was Covington who got the defensive rebound, pushed the ball up the floor, and dished to Kochera for the game-winning layup.

“We needed a spark,” Fischer said. “It’s hard to go do that when you don’t play very many minutes in the first half and the minutes he was out there, I thought he really struggled. He did not play like he’s capable of playing.

“But when he went out there and got us going in the second half, that really helped our team. It got our team’s confidence up a little bit, which was big.”

The Tigers (3-9, 2-5) played with the lead most of the way and were ahead 59-51 with 9:34 remaining. From there, W&M went on a 20-7 run and took a 71-66 lead on a layup by Loewe with 3:21 left. Kochera had 11 points during the binge and Loewe added seven.

But after a timeout, Towson got back-to-back 3s by Nicolas Timberlake and Martin to go ahead 72-71. Loewe answered with a layup, but Timberlake countered that to give the Tigers a 74-73 lead with 56 seconds remaining.

After W&M’s Quinn Blair missed, Towson had a chance to bump its lead to three. Martin missed on a contested drive, and Covington got the long rebound between two Tiger players.

The Tribe had numbers with Covington on the right, Kochera on the left, and Timberlake the only Towson defender back. Covington flipped the bounce pass, and Kochera banked it in with his left hand — one freshman to another.

Fischer wisely called a timeout to get 6-foot-9 shot blocker Mehkel Harvey back in the game. With only three personal fouls at the time, W&M had three to give. Loewe fouled Martin twice, the second time with 7.4 seconds left.

Towson then inbounded to Martin, and Loewe shadowed him to the right. The Tigers’ Charles Martin set a pick at the free throw line, but Loewe avoided it. Martin dribbled out to the right wing and air-balled a fade-away.

Ball game.

“When you have those to give right there, it allows you to hopefully mess up a little bit of rhythm,” Fischer said. “And if there’s any set play that’s drawn up, you hope it’s harder to execute with less time on the clock.

“At the end of the day, I think everybody knew where the ball was going. It was a matter of being able to get a stop on Martin.”

For the weekend, Kochera scored 53 points on 21-of-31 shooting, 4-of-8 from deep. He was 7-of-9 from the free throw line and had 14 rebounds.

“The production he’s showing now is probably more than we were anticipating for his freshman year,” Fischer said. “He plays like a veteran.”

Kochera became only the seventh freshman at William & Mary to score at least 30 points in a game. The last to do it was Nick D’Antoni in 2001.

It was the first time the Tribe won back-to-back games since the second week of December. Picked to finished 10th in the CAA’s preseason poll, W&M is now tied for fifth.

The Tribe is scheduled to host James Madison (9-5, 4-1), which defeated Drexel 73-64 Sunday afternoon.

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