Saturday, December 9, 2023

Tribe men’s basketball falls at Elon in regular season finale

(Courtesy William & Mary)
Tribe men’s basketball lost their final regular season game against Elon on Monday. (Courtesy William & Mary)

With a chance Monday night to secure a first-round bye in the Colonial Athletic Association tournament, William & Mary sputtered with no offensive rhythm in a 73-54 loss at Elon.

In a near repeat of Saturday’s 75-54 loss to the Phoenix in Williamsburg, W&M trailed by double digits for the final 25½ minutes. The Tribe had 21 turnovers (a season high), four assists (a season low), two offensive rebounds (ditto) and shot 4-of-21 from the 3-point arc.

“The numbers we had on the (offensive) end of the floor tonight … that was a really poor performance,” W&M coach Dane Fischer said. “It’s tough to overcome those numbers. And obviously, we weren’t able to do that tonight.

“It seemed like every guy was trying to catch it and be aggressive. And I think they were trying to do the right thing. They just weren’t always making the right reads when to attack versus when to keep the ball and keep the offense flowing.”

With its weekend games against Northeastern canceled because of COVID-19 protocols within the Huskies’ program, Monday was the Tribe’s regular-season finale. W&M’s next game will be either March 6 or, preferably, March 7 in the conference tournament.

The Tribe (6-9, 4-6 CAA) had a chance to secure the No. 6 seed. Instead, to keep that spot and the first-round bye it provides, W&M must rely on James Madison to defeat Drexel Friday. If the Dragons upset the Dukes, they would get the No. 6 seed and the Tribe would fall to No. 7.

Elon (6-8, 3-7) shot 48% from the field, 58% as it put the game away in the second half. Grad transfer Ikenna Ndugba followed his season-high 20 points in Saturday’s win with 17 on 6-of-12 shooting. Freshman Darius Burford, who scored 27 points on Saturday, finished with 13 Monday night.

The Tribe shot 40%, but that was after making seven of its last 12 attempts. With only two offensive rebounds, W&M had no second-chance points.

Luke Loewe led the Tribe with 15 points, all but four coming in the second half. Freshman Yuri Covington finished with 13, all but two coming in the first half.

Quinn Blair, who missed Saturday’s game due to a death in his family, had 12 points. Connor Kochera scored 11.

Like in Saturday’s game — and like in last year’s CAA quarterfinal — Elon jumped out to a double-digit lead within the game’s first nine minutes. The Phoenix led by 18 points in the first half before the Tribe’s mini-rally made it 36-22 at halftime.

“Our defense kept us in the game a little bit in the first half,” Fischer said. “They had 12 points off our turnovers in the first half alone. When you’re playing that poorly offensively, that just makes it hard.”

Any hopes of a second-half run ended quickly as Elon stretched its 14-point lead to 24 by the 14-minute mark. It was 65-35 with 9:21 remaining before W&M finally began clicking on the offensive end.

February has been a strange month for this team. First, the Tribe went through a two-week pause due to COVID-19 issues, going 19 days between games. After the Elon games, W&M won’t play this weekend because of Northeastern’s COVID issues.

Depending on when it plays in the CAA tournament, the Tribe will go either 33 or 34 days playing only two games.

But unlike the pause, the Tribe will be able to practice this time. And in college basketball, March is always a time of new beginnings.

“We’ve got to step back and look at the season as a whole and league play as a whole,” Fischer said. “We’ve played 10 (CAA) games, and seven of them were on the road. To finish 4-6 is disappointing because we were 4-4.

“It’s a different season for everybody. We talked about the fact that there’s been some really good performances and moments for this team. We’ve struggled with consistency and our rhythm coming out of the quarantine. But there will be a lot of time to get ourselves in the right frame of mind.”

Dave Johnson is the “Tribe Scribe” for W&M Athletics.

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