BALTIMORE, MD-For the third time in the last seven years, the William and Mary men’s basketball team will play for the Colonial Athletic Association Championship as the Tribe outlasted No. 2 seed Towson, 75-71, on Sunday evening at the Baltimore Arena. The Green and Gold led for the entirety of the second half and came up with big plays down the stretch, while shooting 60 percent from the floor in the final 20 minutes. W&M won its 20th game of the season for just the seventh time in school history, while Towson fell to 23-10.
The Green and Gold led by five, 71-66, with 3:47 remaining following a Gaillard offensive putback. Towson pulled to within one point on a Rafriel Guthrie 3-pointer and a 1-of-2 effort from the charity stripe by Timajh Parker-Rivera. His freebie with 2:40 left closed the gap to 71-70.
On the ensuing Tribe possession, Thornton canned a huge step-back jumper from the right side to push the margin back to three. Guthrie connected on 1-of-2 from the free throw line with 2:05 left to cut the Green and Gold lead to 73-71.
Towson had a chance to tie, but CAA Player of the Year Jerrelle Benimon was whistle for a travel at the 1:15 mark. W&M worked the shot clock on the ensuing possession, before the Tigers were whistled for a foul with 45 seconds remaining and a fresh 35 on the shot clock. A Britt 3-point attempt with 22 seconds left was off the mark, and Guthrie threw a length of the court pass toward Marcus Damas, who was initial ruled to have stepped on the baseline. After an official review, the play was overturned and went to the possession arrow, giving Towson the ball with 18.1 seconds left trailing by two, 73-71.
The Tigers went to Benimon again, but as he drove the right side of the lane, Thornton and Tarpey converged to ripped the ball away. It was ruled out of bounds off Towson, giving the Tribe possession with 5.5 seconds remaining. Senior Julian Boatner inbounded the ball to a cutting Thornton, who was fouled, and the Upper Marlboro, Md., native hit both ends of a 1-and-1 to give W&M a 75-71 lead, cementing the victory.
The Tribe finished the game shooting 55.1 percent from the field (27-of-49), including an 11-of-22 effort from 3-point range. The Green and Gold also connected on 10-of-14 (71.4 percent) from the charity stripe. Towson shot 50 percent (25-of-50) from the field and was 7-of-14 from 3-point range. One day after setting a CAA Tournament record going 39-of-61 from the free throw line against James Madison, the Tigers were 14-of-20 on Sunday afternoon.
The opening 20 minutes was back and forth with each team responding to the other. W&M scored the opening five points of the contest on a Britt 3-pointer and a lay-up from Rusthoven off a cutting pass from Tarpey. Towson responded with six straight and a Mike Burwell free throw just over three minutes into the contest gave the Tigers a 6-5 advantage.
The teams traded buckets, before an Omar Prewitt free throw at the 13:38 mark tied the game at 11. Burwell’s second triple of the game from the right corner gave the Tigers a 17-13 advantage with 11 mintues left in the opening frame.
The Green and Gold ripped off seven straight points to surge back in front. Thornton knocked down two jumpers, including a 3-pointer, around a Tarpey steal and fastbreak lay-up to give the Tribe a 20-17 lead.
Parker-Rivera tied things up at 20 on a conventional 3-point play for Towson at the 8:51 mark. The teams again traded buckets, before the Tigers scored six straight to take its largest lead of the game. Burwell scored four points on the run, including a pair of free throws with two and a half minutes left in the half to give TU a 35-29 lead.
W&M again answered this time with back-to-back 3-pointers. Boatner knocked one down from the left corner, before Thornton drilled one from the top of the key. The Tribe junior guard was fouled on the play and finished the unconventional four-point play to give W&M a 36-35 lead with 1:18 left. A Parker-Rivera free throw in the closing seconds tied things at 36, and the game entered the final 20 minutes all locked up.
The Tribe started the second half on fire, hitting seven of its first nine field goal attempts in opening up as much as an eight-point advantage. The lead was 52-45 following a driving lay-up from Gaillard at the 13:46 mark. Britt and Thornton led the early second-half spark, scoring 11 of the Tribe’s first 14 points in the second 20 minutes.
The lead remained seven after a Rusthoven jump hook at the 12:29 mark, before Benimon closed Towson to within three points. He canned a fade-away jumper from the left baseline, before hitting a pair of free throw to slice the deficit to 54-51 with 11:21 left.
Like they had for the majority of the first half, the teams traded big bucket after big bucket. A Gaillard 3-pointer from the left side midway through the half put the Tribe on top, 59-54, but the Tigers answered behind four straight Guthrie points to close to 59-58 at the 7:11 mark.
Freshman Omar Prewitt banked in a 3-pointer from the right wing less than 40 seconds later to push the margin back to four, 62-58. A Britt triple with less than six minutes remaining extended the margin to 65-60. The lead remained five, 69-64, on a nice cutting pass from Prewitt to Rusthoven for a lay-up at the 4:40 mark, before Towson made its final charge.