WILLIAMSBURG — One measure of William and Mary's progress from last season: Despite an uneven second half, the Tribe still kept an opponent at arm's length and got a much needed win.
An exceptional start provided a cushion, and free throw shooting gave William and Mary a 78-69 win against Howard at Kaplan Arena Thursday.
"I don't think we played a great basketball game," Tribe coach Tony Shaver said, "but really important to win that kind of game."
Guard Brandon Britt led all scorers with a career-high 26 points and hit 13 of 15 free throws in a remarkable foul shooting performance. The Tribe (5-3) made 28 of 31 for the game, which helped to offset spotty field goal shooting and a couple of spells of sloppiness in the second half.
"I'm always looking to score," Britt said. "I feel like that's definitely a strength of mine. I was just picking my spots. I knew those guys pressure, so driving the ball would be good. I actually hit some free throws tonight, so that definitely helped. Honestly, I was just playing my game. It wasn't a night where I was looking for my shot more, I was just playing my game."
Marcus Thornton and Tim Rusthoven scored 13 points apiece, and Kyle Gaillard added 11. Freshman Terry Tarpey came off the bench and grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds and provided some energy and bounce.
"I think we matched their toughness," Howard coach Kevin Nickelberry said. "We made sure we executed and got good shots. The one thing you can't scout is free throws. William and Mary did a good job of getting to the line, and Britt did an especially good job of getting to the line."
Guard Calvin Thompson led the Bison (2-8) with 24 points, and Mike Phillips had 20. The Bison committed only three turnovers and grabbed 15 offensive rebounds.
The Tribe (5-3) shot 64 percent from the field in the first half on the way to an eight-point lead. Howard never got closer than four, and W&M stretched the lead to as many as 67-54 with less than five minutes remaining.
"I think we've been a team that started well this year," Shaver said. "We haven't always played the second half as well, but I thought we did a better job of that tonight. Having that little bit of a comfort margin is important for us.
"I thought it was a night that maybe we could have taken that 10-point lead and got it to 15 slowly, maybe got it a little higher than that. We had a couple sloppy possessions in there, but give credit to Howard. They played really well, and they're really hard to stop."
Indeed, Howard pressed and scrapped, particularly in the last five minutes and nearly got all the way back. A Thompson jump shot in the paint cut the Tribe lead to 73-67 with 1:31 remaining.
Britt missed a slightly hurried 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down, but the Bison failed to account for everyone and Tarpey tracked down a critical offensive rebound. Howard fouled Matt Rum, whose two free throws with 48 seconds to play pushed the margin to 75-67, and the Tribe closed it out.
"A great team – and we're not a great team yet – but a great team would widen that (lead) late in the game," Shaver said. "We had some really good players get sloppy with the ball. We're better than that right there. …
"But really proud of the win. I want to underline that – really proud of the win. We played not great, we played a team that played very well and got a really nice win at home."