History eludes W&M yet again in CAA final loss to Delaware

Tribe erased 12-point, second-half deficit.

BALTIMORE — They were superb, resilient and wildly entertaining. But after more than two hours of March theater that careened from dramatic to agonizing and back again, William and Mary's basketball players and coaches were crushed.

Again.

The Colonial Athletic Association championship and the program's first NCAA tournament bid were in their clutches. My goodness, with a 6-point lead in the waning moments, the Tribe was strangling those precious commodities.

But they could not close. Delaware scored the game's final seven points Monday night to win the CAA tournament 75-74 at Baltimore Arena.

"This being the end for some of us makes it really emotional for a lot of people," senior forward Tim Rusthoven said. "I couldn't ask for a better team, I couldn't ask for better guys to do this with, and I think that makes it even harder.

"But I'm extremely proud of everyone in that locker room and what we did."

As well he should be. William and Mary (20-12) won 20 games for only the seventh time and reached the championship game of its conference tournament for only the eighth time.

Yet it could have been oh-so-much more. It could have been history for a school that defines historic. Indeed, national media already were lined up to tell the Tribe's story as it headed to the NCAA tournament.

After a stirring comeback from a 12-point, second-half deficit, William and Mary led 74-68 when freshman Omar Prewitt swished a 3-pointer from the left wing with 1:17 remaining. The Tribe did not score again as Prewitt missed a bonus free throw -- W&M was 3-for-11 for the game -- and All-CAA guard Marcus Thornton missed jumpers on the team's final two possessions, the latter as the clock expired.

Conversely, regular-season champ Delaware (25-9) was flawless in the clutch, and wide-body Carl Baptiste's layup with 12 seconds left provided the decisive points in its third conquest of the Tribe.

William and Mary's ensuing possession wasn't complex, but having Thornton (22 points on 8-of-15 shooting) create was the right call.

Baptiste punished the Tribe for 23 points and 9-of-11 shooting in just 28 minutes at Kaplan Arena in late January. He was just as good Monday with 24 points and the same 9-of-11 shooting.

The Blue Hens media guide lists him as 6-foot-9, 230 pounds, but as Comrade Fairbank tweeted from courtside, Baptiste hasn't seen 230 since his junior prom, and his interior brawn combined with perimeter players such as Jarvis Threatt and Devon Saddler were too much to overcome.

The Blue Hens "usually bury people" when they open a large lead, Tribe coach Tony Shaver said, "but we fought and fought and fought."

And did so spectacularly. Long past are the days of the Tribe trying to win with gimmicks and guile. These dudes are athletic, and they challenged Delaware, which Shaver called the most explosive offense he's seen in 11 seasons in the CAA.

Prewitt was the ringleader, thundering down the lane for a one-handed dunk over Davon Usher early in the second half. Prewitt later blocked a Kyle Anderson drive, and Kyle Gaillard rejected a Marvin King-Davis jam at the rim. Rusthoven blocked three shots to complement his 16 points in the low post.

The Baltimore Arena is well past its Beatles-in-'65 prime, but with 5,414 spirited fans, the old gal was rocking. Why, with William and Mary set to claim its first NCAA tournament bid, perhaps the moment was going to merit a photo on walls decorated with the likes of Pavarotti, Dylan and Earl the Pearl Monroe.

You had to think that after all these years this was the Tribe's time.

"It was hard not to," Rusthoven said.

William and Mary faithful have seen colleagues across the commonwealth not only reach the NCAA tournament but also advance. Virginia and Virginia Tech. James Madison and George Mason. Hampton and Norfolk State. VCU, VMI and Old Dominion.

Never the Tribe. Among Division I's original members 50-plus years ago, only William and Mary, Army, The Citadel, Northwestern and St. Francis (N.Y.) have not experienced the NCAA tournament.

The Tribe's frustration dates to a 1958 Southern Conference final loss to West Virginia and includes three CAA title-game setbacks in the last seven years.

"It's a great college basketball game we just played," Rusthoven said.

Memorable and quite painful, too.

David Teel can be reached at 757-247-4636 or by email at dteel@dailypress.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP.

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