Tony Shaver was in no mood for bouquets. Yes, his William and Mary basketball team performed admirably in a season-ending defeat Saturday, and yes, his future roster is stocked. But the pain and frustration of yet another one-possession loss were paramount.
“There’s no good feeling for me right now,” Shaver said. “We felt like we were good enough to win this tournament.”
Indeed, No. 6 seed and 7-11 Colonial Athletic Association record notwithstanding, the Tribe had the look and feel of a March darkhorse, a talented bunch that had made life miserable for more acclaimed opponents for much of the season, especially the last month.
But in a CAA quarterfinal replete with March-quality drama and effort, William and Mary fell to third-seeded James Madison 72-67 at the Richmond Coliseum.
Saturday marked the teams’ third meeting in just a little more than a month, and that familiarity created more respect than contempt.
Sure, the Dukes swept the two regular-season encounters and finished four games clear of the Tribe in the CAA standings. But William and Mary challenged JMU in both, especially last Saturday in Williamsburg, sprinting to a 16-point halftime lead before spitting the bit late in a 69-67 defeat.
Talk about a recurring theme.
The Tribe lost four regulation games this season by five points or less. In what must be a program, if not conference or national, record, William and Mary lost not one, not two, but count ‘em three double-overtime contests – to Richmond, Towson and Northeastern, all on the road.
“Toe-to-toe every night,” Shaver said of how his team competed.
Saturday was no different.
Marcus Thornton was just shy of brilliant with 25 points on 8-of-12 shooting, making step-back 3-pointers and acrobatic layups. Brandon Britt added 17 points and immeasurable backcourt poise, gangly forward Tim Rusthoven 15 points.
The Tribe (13-17) led by as many as eight points in the first half and by seven with 9:30 remaining. But the inability to rebound, and to defend A.J. Davis and Devon Moore, doomed William and Mary.
The Dukes (18-14) outrebounded the Tribe 22-8 in the second half, and Davis and Moore scored 20 points each on 16-of-25 combined shooting.
“We haven’t been as good defensively as I’d like to be, and it hurts me to say that,” Shaver said. “We haven’t been good enough to get key stops. … They’re long, they’re athletic, they’re more physical than we are inside. We had to find a way to combat that.”
The Tribe did by shooting 50 percent from the field and scrapping throughout.
There was Rusthoven, after losing the ball during an inside scrum, diving to create a steal that led to a Britt layup. And there was Kyle Gaillard, after getting stripped in the paint, swiping the ball back and finding Britt in the right corner for a 3-pointer.
But the Tribe had no counter for Davis and Moore’s athleticism.
Davis’ 15-point, first-half binge included a nasty, right-wing drive and dunk over Gaillard. His second-half, two-handed flush of a Rayshawn Goins miss was even better. Meanwhile, Moore made his first seven shots, including three from deep, and passed for eight of JMU’s nine assists.
Yet when a Thornton pass glanced off Rusthoven’s hands directly to Gaillard for a late layup, you wondered if this might be the Tribe’s night. The Dukes’ lead was 66-63, and Thornton was rolling.
Sure enough, with the clock ticking inside five seconds and JMU leading 70-67, Thornton got a wide-open, 3-point attempt from the left wing when Moore misread how he’d use a ball screen.
I asked Moore if his heart skipped a beat as Thornton, a sophomore and the CAA’s No. 2 scorer, released the jumper.
“It definitely did,” Moore said, “because he’s a great player. He made plays that seniors make. … I just knew if he got a little daylight we were probably going into overtime. … I told him after the game he’ll have a lot more shots like that to take.”
The victory advances JMU to the CAA semifinals for the first time since 2001 – the Dukes face second-seeded Delaware on Sunday – and delays rampant speculation about coach Matt Brady’s job security. He’s 85-81 in five seasons, but 39-51 in CAA regular-season play.
“It’s really not a factor,” Brady said. “Had we lost tonight, it’s a looming question. But it’s really not pertinent to what these kids accomplished. This is about our kids, our team, our program and the JMU community.
“The fact of the matter is, I’ll be fine. This is about our team trying to advance and do something special. I think we’ve got seniors [the Dukes start four] that can get it done.”
Good answer to an awkward question.
Shaver, too, believed his team, chasing the program’s first NCAA tournament bid, was capable of something special.
“I think our future’s very bright,” he said, “I really do. … We’ve got a great nucleus coming back, on paper one of the best recruiting classes we’ve ever had.”
Indeed, players expected back next season accounted for all of William and Mary’s points Saturday. The offseason mission, Shaver said, is to “find that one degree, that one percent (that makes the difference).
“We’ve GOT to find a way to get that done.”
I can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at email@example.com. Follow me at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP
Here’s a link to my Daily Press print columns.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun