WILLIAMSBURG -- If ever the stars aligned for William and Mary to make a statement that it belonged at the CAA’s top tier, Wednesday was it.
Home game against league leader Delaware; amped crowd; momentum from back-to-back wins; competitive loss to the Blue Hens just two weeks ago. And by the way, Delaware was minus two suspended starters.
A dismal start, combined with spotty defense and Delaware’s resilience, resulted in an 89-72 slap in the mush that forces the leg-weary Tribe to regroup as it approaches the midpoint of the conference schedule.
“We got beat by a really good team,” Tribe coach Tony Shaver said. “They’re undefeated in the league for a reason, I guess. I really thought the game was decided, in essence when you look back at it, probably in the first five minutes. We dug such a deep hole and we just couldn’t get out of it.”
Indeed, the Tribe (12-8, 4-3 CAA) chased almost from the jump and allowed a season-worst point total as it played its third game in five days. The Blue Hens jumped out to a 17-point lead in the first 10 minutes and built it to 42-18 late in the first half before the Tribe pushed back.
Freshman Daniel Dixon scored nine of his 15 points in the first half, or the deficit would have been larger. He and Marcus Thornton (19 points) were the only W&M players in double figures, though Thornton cooled off a bit from his recent torrid shooting streak, hitting just 7 of 18 shots.
“We definitely felt good,” Thornton said. “We felt confident. I think we prepared. We were focused. I think, like Coach Shaver said in the locker room, I think we might have been a little too excited. We took a lot of quick shots to start the game off. We didn’t play defense. The quick shots were good for us, but they weren’t falling early. The combination of that and not playing defense, we got ourselves in a hole.”
Delaware (15-7, 7-0 CAA) thrived despite the absence of starting guard Jarvis Threatt and forward Marvin King-Davis. Both were suspended for a month for undisclosed violations, the school announced earlier Wednesday.
Threatt is the CAA’s fifth-leading scorer (17.9) and leads the conference in both assists and steals, while King-Davis is a steady frontline presence. Without them, the Blue Hens notched their second-highest point total since November and won their 14th conference road game in the last 16 tries, dating back to last season.
“One of the most unbelievable, to be honest with you, performances from a Delaware team that I’ve been associated with,” Blue Hens coach Monte’ Ross said. “To be able to come out of here with a ‘W’ is very satisfying for us and our ballclub. These guys, William and Mary, they’re tough and when they start making 3s, they’re a lot to deal with. But I just thought our guys showed a lot of poise, a lot of toughness, a lot of composure and (were) able to win the ball game. A very, very satisfying victory.”
Wing Davon Usher (28 points) finished two points shy of his career-high, while 6-9 Carl Baptiste hit his career-high (23 points) and was a load for the Tribe’s post players.
But the fact that Delaware can lose its point guard, Threatt, and replace him with all-league Devon Saddler is a luxury few teams have. Saddler, a strong safety in high-tops, had been coming off the bench after an early-season seven-game suspension. He still plays starter minutes and averages a league-best 23.8 points per game in CAA play. Now, the ball will be in his hands even more than usual.
Saddler finished with 19 points, seven assists (all in the first half), four steals and one turnover.
“If you get behind Delaware, Saddler’s going to control the tempo of the game,” Shaver said. “He’s one of the most difficult players our teams have tried to defend. He’s got great speed, he’s unbelievably strong. He just really controls the game.”
The Tribe battled back and nearly made a game of it, spurred on by a fairly raucous, engaged crowd at Kaplan Arena. W&M cut the deficit to nine points on consecutive possessions midway through the second half: first a Dixon 3-pointer, the second a Thornton drive that made it 61-52.
Saddler answered with a jump shot in the paint after Dixon’s 3-pointer. Freshman Cazmon Hayes converted a three-point play after Thornton’s drive that pushed the lead to 64-52. The Tribe never got closer, as Delaware scored on 12 of 15 possessions during that stretch of the second half.
“We talk all the time about shooting with confidence,” Thornton said. “Some of our guys passed up open shots. When you play good teams, you can’t pass up open shots. I think we were a little off tonight. But at the end of the day, defense can never be off, and I think that’s what hurt us the most.”