WILLIAMSBURG — There were two sizable comebacks, one by each team, at Kaplan Arena Saturday night. William & Mary’s came second and mattered most.
Ben Wight’s follow with 28.3 seconds left and Chris Mullins’ shut-down defense on the final possession gave the Tribe a 58-57 win over Richmond. W&M (4-5) led by 17 points at halftime but, after the Spiders flipped a switch, trailed by six with 4:21 remaining in the game.
The Tribe outscored UR 9-2 the rest of the way for the win.
“We’re a veteran group, especially me and Anders (Nelson) as grad students,” said Mullins, a transfer from Rice. “We’ve seen a lot of basketball, so we know to stay calm through any situation.
“We know basketball is a game of runs. Nobody in our huddle ever panicked, and that’s the biggest thing.”
Wight finished with 14 points, including the Tribe’s final two baskets, and five rebounds. Gabe Dorsey led W&M with 15 points on 5-of-12 shooting from the 3-point arc. Nelson finished with 13 along with six assists, and Noah Collier added 10 with eight rebounds.
After leading 38-21 at halftime, William & Mary came unglued against Richmond’s press. When a layup by Tyler Burton (26 points, 22 in the second half) tied it at 46 with 8:40 remaining, UR (3-5) had outscored W&M 25-8 in the second half.
It was a Burton 3-pointer that gave the Spiders a 55-49 lead at 4:21. But that would be his last basket.
On consecutive possessions, Collier scored on an and-one and a move in the post to make it a one-point game with 3:25 left. Richmond answered with a layup by 7-footer Neal Quinn to push its lead to 57-54.
Wight scored in the post with 1:19 left to make it a one-point game again. Mullins kept the ball out of Burton’s hands on Richmond’s possession, and Isaiah Bigelow missed. Collier rebounded, and W&M called timeout with 38 seconds left, 24 on the shot clock.
W&M inbounded to Mullins, who as he drove to the basket appeared to lose his footing. He banked it high off the glass to the other side of the rim, where Wight beat Richmond’s Andre Gustavson for the tip-in with 28.3 seconds left.
“It was a great play from Coach Fischer to get Chris going downhill,” Wight said. “I knew if he doesn’t make it, it would be my job to clean it up.”
Richmond had one last shot, and everyone knew who would take it. Burton got the ball on the right side one-on-one with Mullins, who at 6-foot-3 is four inches shorter. Burton worked to the baseline and ended up shooting a fade-away that missed everything as time ran out.
“He’s a great player and can score in a variety of ways,” Mullins said. “He can hit that pull-up jump shot and you saw he was making threes (4-of-8) today. He definitely has a post game. I just wanted to make it a very difficult shot.”
Mullins was the one Fischer wanted guarding the ball with the game on the line.
“Our best defensive player against their best offensive player,” Fischer said. “We were able to come out on the right side of that.”
It was a morale boost of a win against the defending A-10 champion, not to mention and old I-64 rival.
“They’re a really good Atlantic 10 program and a team that’s probably going to win a lot of games this year with an elite, elite player in Burton,” Fischer said. “This is really big for us, and our guys felt that after the game. Hopefully, this is something we can build on.”
Fischer had one more thing to say.
“We had a lot of guys who didn’t play tonight and some guys who played minimal minutes,” he said. “This is the best we have guarded a team that runs this offense, and it’s because the guys in practice the last two days have been phenomenal running this stuff. This was a real team win.”