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The Baltimore Sun

William and Mary struggles in 70-52 loss to VCU

William and Mary has shown flashes of potential this season and played well at times.

What the Tribe hasn't done in its past seven tries is win a basketball game.

William and Mary couldn't overcome a cold start Wednesday night, losing 70-52 to VCU and remaining winless in Colonial Athletic Association play.

"I'm very concerned about our level of confidence," said Tribe coach Tony Shaver, whose team led JMU late before falling 84-79 on Saturday. " … We played great against James Madison the other night, (had) spurts of good basketball tonight, but at some point, you've got to win ball games to really believe in yourselves. We'll make that step soon, I think."

The Tribe (4-12, 0-5 CAA) last won on Dec. 16, beating Shenandoah 72-44 in its first game after losing 59-55 at VCU (12-5, 4-1) on Dec. 4.

"It's certainly not where we want to be, but at the same time, I think we're rapidly improving," said senior forward Marcus Kitts, who had a team-best 14 points and nine rebounds before fouling out with 4:14 to play. "I'm sure by the end of CAA play and tournament time, I think we're going to have things where we want them to be, and I think we'll be the team that nobody will want to go up against."

William and Mary is a year removed from a 22-win season – the third-most victories in school history – and its second-ever postseason appearance, but the lost experience of the four seniors missing from that team showed Wednesday.

Starting two freshman guards, the Tribe committed 11 turnovers against VCU's press in the first half, didn't score for the game's first six minutes and trailed by 14 with six minutes left before halftime, but the Rams only led 29-20 at the break.

"We didn't shoot the ball particularly well, either," said Rams coach Shaka Smart, whose team held the Tribe to a 41.2 shooting percentage in the first 20 minutes but shot only 40.9 percent. "It was a low-scoring half, and we had some situations where we weren't able to convert some of those turnovers. But anytime you go into halftime and you've held the other team to 20 points, you feel good about the way you're defending."

The Tribe pulled within four 1:45 into the second half on freshman guard Brandon Britt's layup and closed within 33-30 on Kitts' driving layup with 16:40 to play.

William and Mary was still within three after Quinn McDowell's off-balance jumper made it 35-32, but a quick 10-0 run, featuring two 3-pointers by the Rams and a turnover, an offensive foul and two missed shots by the Tribe, pushed VCU's lead to 45-34 with 12:50 left.

"For a young team to hang in there when we had such a poor start in the ball game impressed me," Shaver said. "We really did show some toughness mentally to get back in the basketball game the way they did, and then they had another great spurt on us, one that we couldn't answer."

Rams forward Rob Brandenberg, who scored 19 of his game-high 22 points in the second half, hit a high-bouncing 3-pointer to start the decisive VCU run.

Brandenberg, playing increased minutes after Rams senior guard Brandon Rozzell broke his hand in practice Tuesday, was 10-for-27 on 3-point attempts coming into Wednesday. He finished 4-for-8 from long range as part of his 9-of-13 performance from the floor.

The VCU run stretched to 12-0 and the lead to 47-34 with 11:15 remaining, and William and Mary, which committed 19 total turnovers, wouldn't get within single digits again.

"The first two minutes, the tone of the game was set," Shaver said. "We've been working on (handling pressure), but we don't have anybody that fast on our team to simulate what they were doing.

"They were welcomed to college basketball tonight."

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