Tuesday, July 5, 2022

With a quick start and defensive dominance, Tribe downs Seahawks in CAA tournament

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

One of William & Mary’s chief bugaboos this season has been poor starts. So many times, the Tribe would fall behind early by double digits and spent the rest of the night clawing back.

Saturday night in the first round of the Colonial Athletic Association tournament, W&M flipped the script by taking a 10-point lead in the first eight minutes. By dominating the boards and having its best defensive performance of the season, the Tribe cruised past UNC Wilmington 73-60 in Harrisonburg.

W&M (7-9), which will go against No. 2 seed Northeastern Sunday at 6 p.m., held the Seahawks to 3-of-14 shooting in the game’s first 9½ minutes. At that point, the Tribe’s lead was 17-6.

Quite a difference between Saturday night and W&M’s previous two games, both of which the Tribe trailed Elon by double digits less than 10 minutes in.

“We were just getting stops,” said guard Luke Loewe, who finished with 17 points, five rebounds, and two steals. “I mean, our offense will come. But when we get stops, to start the game especially, and don’t let teams get out to a fast start … that just carried over for the rest of the game.”

W&M held the Seahawks to a season-low 32 percent from the field. Wilmington’s 60 points were its second-fewest of the season and would have been the fewest if not for Mike Okauru’s 3-pointer with five seconds left.

“I think it was probably our best defensive performance from start to finish we’ve had,” Tribe coach Dane Fischer said. “We spent a lot of time over the week and a half after our Elon games really focusing on the defensive end and getting back to some of the basics.

“Like keeping the ball out of the paint and being there on shooters like we need to be. I thought our guys did a great job today of having that mindset. This is a really good offensive team.”

True enough, although the Seahawks (7-10) had only one conference victory, they came in second in the Colonial in scoring (77.3 points a game) and fourth in both field goal percentage (.446) and 3-point percentage (.343).

The Tribe also dominated the boards 45-33 for a season-best margin of plus-12. Mehkel Harvey had 10 rebounds in 27 minutes. Quinn Blair had nine to go along with 14 points.

“That was huge because we forced them into a lot of jump shots,” Fischer said of the board work. “I thought our guys did a great job as a team of going to get it. Mekhel had 10 and Quinn Blair had nine, but there was four, three, five, four, six from all the other guys. It was a really good team effort.”

William & Mary made five of its first seven shots and took a 13-4 lead on Yuri Covington’s drive 4½ minutes in. Wilmington at one point missed 11 of 12 shots, which enabled the Tribe to keep its lead in double digits even as it cooled off.

A layup by Loewe gave W&M its biggest lead of the first half at 31-15 with 2:52 remaining. The Seahawks closed with a 6-2 run to make it a 33-21 game at halftime.

It was the fewest points the Tribe had given up a Division I opponent in the first half since the 2019-20 season opener against High Point.

“We really came out from the beginning and played hard,” Loewe said. “We executed our game plan almost to a T. Everyone really contributed and played their role. It was a great team win.”

It came, of course, at the best possible time of the season. It also came after two losses to Elon on Feb. 20 and 22 by a combined 40 points. Throw in the quarantines and only two games in the entire month of February, and it was badly needed.

“Our overall mindset coming into the game was great,” Fischer said. “It was, ‘Let’s go out there and play as hard as we can right from the start.’ The guys did a really nice job of that.

“It’s great to come in here and win our first game. I think the guys will have some confidence coming into (Sunday), but we’re obviously playing against a terrific team.”

As with Wilmington, W&M did not play Northeastern (9-8) this season. Their games scheduled for Feb. 27 and 28 were canceled because of COVID-19 issues within the Huskies’ program.

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