Maybe Marcus Thornton was too open.
William and Mary’s gifted sophomore guard had ducked, dodged, feinted, elevated and contorted himself for 25 game-changing points.
But in the final moments, after defender Devon Moore guessed wrong, he found himself lonesome open on the left wing with a chance to tie Saturday’s wonderfully entertaining quarterfinal against James Madison.
Thornton’s attempt clanged away with seven seconds remaining, and JMU held off the Tribe 72-67 at the Richmond Coliseum.
“I’ll take that every time,” W&M teammate Brandon Britt said. “Nine times out of 10, he’ll hit that shot. It’s just one time where he got a good look, he didn’t knock it down. But I’ll have him taking that shot any day.”
In a frustratingly familiar refrain, William and Mary (13-17) played well enough to win, but saw a second-half lead evaporate due to lapses you could set your watch to and to JMU’s rebounding edge.
“Just a heartbreaking loss for our team,” W&M’s Tony Shaver said. “As a coach, it’s exciting to see them play as hard as they did and pour their heart and soul into an effort. It’s equally as disappointing and heartbreaking to see it not work our way.
“We had a season (in which) we had a lot of those games. We played the top teams in this league tough, especially the last month of the season, the last 5-6 weeks of the season, toe-to-toe every night. But we just haven’t won enough of those close games.”
Moore and A.J. Davis led third-seeded JMU with 20 points apiece. Moore handed out eight assists and provided poise and leadership. Davis, a Tribe killer all season, contributed several spectacular baskets and finished with 83 points in three games versus W&M.
W&M squandered a 16-point halftime lead the previous week in a 69-67 loss to JMU in the regular season finale. On Saturday, the Dukes outrebounded W&M 34-23, including a 22-8 difference in the second half. They turned 14 offensive rebounds into 17 second-chance points, which helped offset a gruesome 9-for-18 performance from the foul line.
“I thought the plays that we made on the glass were probably the difference in the game,” said JMU coach Matt Brady, whose team is in the semifinals for the first time since 2001. “I think when you get to this point in the season, it really comes down to – each team knows each other so well – that you need your best players to make plays, and that happened tonight.”
JMU (18-14) scored 14 second-chance points in a seven-minute span, as it turned a 56-49 deficit into a 66-58 lead. Within that span, the Tribe committed five turnovers, missed three shots and missed the front end of a one-and-one.
Even with that, the Tribe regrouped and had a chance in the closing seconds. Thornton’s driving shot with 46 seconds left pulled W&M within 70-67.
Moore fumbled away an inbounds pass near his own bench with 15 seconds left, giving W&M a chance to tie. The Tribe ran a play designed for Thornton to use a screen by Tim Rusthoven near the top of the key and perhaps free himself for a 3-pointer.
But Moore anticipated and cheated too far. Thornton spun back to his left, leaving him wide open for the potential game-tying 3-pointer. He hesitated for a split-second, gathered himself and shot. It was only his fourth miss in 12 attempts.
“Naw, I didn’t think I was too open,” Thornton said. “It was a good look. It was in my hands.”
Moore watched helplessly, and all he could do was hope that Thornton missed.
“He’s a great player,” Moore said. “He’s young, but he’s making plays that seniors make. He’s one heck of a player. I just knew, if he got a little daylight, we were probably going to end up going into overtime. I was scared. I put it on myself. When he missed the shot, I was happy.
“But I told him after the game, he’s going to have a lot more shots to take like that, and he’s going to make it. I told him to keep his head up and to keep pushing his team and good luck next year.”