WILLIAMSBURG — William and Mary learned once again that encouragement and trends last only as long as what's delivered that particular day.
The Tribe came away greatly encouraged from Thursday's near-miss, overtime loss at VCU because of several superior performances, individually and collectively. UNC Wilmington, on the other hand, had lost three straight and had defended poorly of late.
That said, the Seahawks' 68-66 win in a Saturday matinee at Kaplan Arena was more easily explained than you might imagine.
"I'm disappointed in myself, I'm disappointed in our seniors," Tribe coach Tony Shaver said. "We didn't come out and play 40 minutes of hard basketball. It seemed like it took us 30 minutes to realize we really had to defend with passion. From that point, we were swimming upstream, which is what we've done all year long, is swim upstream."
UNC Wilmington kept the Tribe (4-16, 2-6 CAA) at arm's length for nearly the entire game, largely a result of shooting a season-best 55.8 percent. Once William and Mary finally dug in and took a lead, the Seahawks executed well enough on offense as the Tribe banana-peeled in the final minute-and-a-half.
UNCW (8-10, 4-4 CAA) sophomore Donte Morales matched his season-high with 16 points. Post man Keith Rendleman (15 points, 11 rebounds) – the leading scorer in CAA games – effectively handled William and Mary's double-teaming inside and delivered a big basket late that gave the Seahawks the lead, as well as a block on Marcus Thornton's drive in the final 40 seconds.
"Our defensive presence on the floor wasn't what it should have been," Tribe senior Quinn McDowell (18 points) said. "I mean, give them credit, they hit shots. But every time we'd kind of make a run, pull close, they'd hit a big basket at the other end. That was due to our deficiency, playing tough man-to-man defense. Plus, they're a good team."
Tim Rusthoven followed Thursday's performance at VCU with his second consecutive double-double (17 points, 10 rebounds. Matt Rum contributed 11 points and stout defense, notably hitting a 3-pointer with 3:34 remaining that gave the Tribe its first lead (61-60) since midway through the first half.
From there, however, UNCW scored on four consecutive possessions. Rendleman hit a jump hook when the Tribe defense didn't rotate to him quickly enough. McDowell slipped and lost the ball at the other end, and the Seahawks' Freddie Jackson drove and scored for a 64-61 lead.
Thornton had his shot blocked by Rendleman, which ignited a break that ended with a Morales dunk and a 66-61 lead. The Seahawks held on from there.
UNCW last played Wednesday, a 69-61 home loss to James Madison. The Tribe, meanwhile, was playing its second game in 39 hours.
"Probably not ideal, but that's not the reason we lost the game today," McDowell said.
"Mature basketball teams, good basketball team will find a way to handle that," Shaver said of the quick turnaround. "I thought it took us way too long to get to the level of competition we need to play."
Thornton, exceptional at VCU, was just 3-for-12 from the field, and Brandon Britt missed his first nine shots and managed just two points. The Tribe missed at least five bunnies and any number of other close shots.
"They had some shots that didn't fall for them," UNCW coach Buzz Peterson said. "We were very fortunate that the ball bounced our way."
The Tribe's three games-in-five days grind concludes Monday with a home game against preseason fave Drexel.
"The simple fact is we've got to learn to play 40 minutes of really tough, hard-nosed basketball with a high level of concentration," Shaver said, "and right now we haven't proven we can do that consistently."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun