Brandon Britt channeled his emotions, turning a difficult day into an evening when he knew he made the most important man in his life proud.
Six months after his father passed away, on what would have been Gerald Wayne Britt's 59th birthday, Brandon Britt hit arguably the game's biggest shot and helped William and Mary to a much-needed 75-71 win against Hofstra on Wednesday at Kaplan Arena.
Britt's 3-pointer with 18 seconds remaining and the shot clock winding down represented the final points in a predictably taut game between two evenly-matched teams trying to gain momentum heading into the CAA tournament.
William and Mary (6-24, 4-13 CAA) clinched at least the 10th seed in next month's tournament in Richmond and with a win Saturday against Georgia State could be the ninth seed.
Hofstra (9-21, 2-15 CAA) lost its fifth consecutive conference game and its eighth in the last nine league games.
Britt believed that he could make a difference Wednesday. He spent more time alone than usual Wednesday afternoon, thinking about his father and envisioning what the game would be like and how he would play.
"It's not just today," said the sophomore guard from Chesapeake. "Today was emotional, but sometimes I forget it's only been six months. He died in August. Me and my dad were really close, but life goes on. You've still got to go to school, you've still got to play ball. I love to play ball, and he loved to watch me play.
"I've got a great group of guys – teammates and coaches and even staff. I just try to play – try to play through it and have fun."
Gerald Britt was a native of Franklin who played basketball at Hampton University — then Hampton Institute — in the early 1970s. His his name is still all over the school record book. He led the Pirates in scoring and rebounding in the 1973-74 season, and his 17.5-rebound average remains a school record.
"It's been an emotional day all day," Britt said. "I just tried to get ready for the game, but I knew I couldn't let my teammates down. I had to come out with energy and just play. But today was definitely rough."
Britt finished with 14 points, complementing Quinn McDowell's team-high 21 points. McDowell had uncharacteristically missed 3 of 4 free throws earlier that kept the game close.
Mike Moore's two free throws with 49.3 seconds remaining had pulled Hofstra within 72-71. Moore led all scorers with 25 points, but managed just one field goal in the second half.
The Tribe took a timeout with 31 seconds remaining to set up a couple of options. Britt got the ball on the left wing with the shot clock winding down under 10 seconds. When Moore didn't fight over top of Tim Rusthoven's screen at the top of the key, Britt let fly with what was the game winner.
Tribe coach Tony Shaver wondered if Gerald Britt didn't give his son's winning shot a helping hand in the final seconds. Brandon concurred.
"I know a lot of people don't believe in things like that, but I do," he said. "I definitely think he was there with me."
The Tribe received an unexpectedly big lift from JohnMark Ludwick. The 6-8 senior, playing just his fourth game after enduring season-long foot problems, scored 10 points and helped offset foul trouble to big man Tim Rusthoven.
The Tribe shot a season-best 55.6 percent from the field and scored 15 points more than its average. But W&M hurt itself with turnovers (13), particularly the unforced variety, and missed free throws. The Tribe missed 8 of 13 foul shots in the second half and would have had a bigger cushion in the closing minutes had it made free throws.
Britt wasn't immune to the free throw problems, missing half of his eight attempts. He said the only time he thought about his father during the game was when play stopped and he went to the foul line.
"My dad hated it when I missed free throws," Britt said with a grin. "So every time I went to the free throw line, I was like, he's probably up in heaven right now getting mad with me missing. That was really the only time. When I'm in the game, I'm just focusing on the next play and how to make my teammates better."
WILLIAM & MARY 75, HOFSTRA 71
Lester 8-17 2-4 18, Nwaukoni 2-3 0-0 4, Mejia 2-9 4-5 9, McMillan 0-1 0-0 0, Moore 6-17 11-12 25, Grogan 1-2 0-0 3, McLendon 2-8 1-2 6, Kone 3-3 0-1 6. Totals 24-60 18-24 71.
WILLIAM & MARY (6-24):
McDowell 6-12 7-11 21, Rusthoven 4-4 1-1 9, Brown 1-2 1-2 4, Rum 1-4 2-2 5, Britt 4-6 4-8 14, Boatner 1-2 0-0 3, Thornton 4-9 0-0 9, Heldring 0-0 0-0 0, Ludwick 4-5 0-0 10, Schalk 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 25-45 15-24 75.
Halftime—William & Mary 42-39. 3-point goals—Hofstra 5-15 (Moore 2-5, Grogan 1-2, Mejia 1-3, McLendon 1-4, Lester 0-1), William & Mary 10-25 (Ludwick 2-3, Britt 2-3, McDowell 2-6, Brown 1-2, Boatner 1-2, Rum 1-4, Thornton 1-5). Fouled out—Kone, McMillan, Rum. Rebounds—Hofstra 33 (Lester 8), William & Mary 31 (McDowell 7). Assists—Hofstra 13 (McMillan 5), William & Mary 15 (Britt 5). Total fouls—Hofstra 21, William & Mary 19. A—1,806.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun