As one lengthy NCAA tournament drought ended Monday, one of the nation’s longest grew by another agonizing year.
William & Mary, one of five original Division I schools to never make the men’s basketball tournament, cut a 22-point deficit with under four minutes remaining to six, but Northeastern held on for a 72-61 win in the Colonial Athletic Association title game.
Tournament Most Outsanding Player Quincy Ford scored a game-high 22 points for Northeastern and the third-seeded Huskies shot 59.1 percent from the field to clinch their first CAA title and NCAA tournament bid since 1991.
Compared to a streak that lasts a school’s entire lifetime, the 24-year spell between tournament appearances for Northeastern took second billing all tournament long.
“I can understand that in some ways, I was feeling for them last year when they had a chance to go in last year’s finals,” Northeastern coach Bill Coen said. “But I thought this was just our weekend.”
David Walker added 15 for Northeastern, while Caleb Donnelly had 13 points and Scott Eatherton had 12 in the win at Royal Farms Arena.
“I think there was just a little extra pop in our step, and we were able to, for the most part, keep a very, very lethal offense under wraps,” Coen said.
A CAA title looked fated for William & Mary after its 92-91, double-overtime win over Hofstra in the semifinals. It’s fan base provided many of Monday’s 5,721 fans, and commissioner Tom Yeager said before the game William & Mary fans were “carrying the house” for the tournament.
Yeager said he hopes the CAA can work out a long-term agreement beyond 2016, the final year of the conference’s initial contract in Baltimore. But Royal Farms Arena has proven a house of horrors for William & Mary, which lost the 2014 final there, as well.
Eight points in the opening 2:11 from Ford helped build a 10-0 Northeastern lead, but five points from Thornton and six from Terry Tarpey leveled the score as part of a 15-5 William & Mary run.
“You have to expend so much energy getting back into it, and it’s probably energy we didn’t have tonight,” William & Mary coach Tony Shaver said.
After a brief even stretch, Eatherton and Ford accounted for nine straight points as the Huskies built a 36-26 halftime lead.
After two early baskets, Thornton didn't score for nearly 15 minutes spanning the two halves. Omar Prewitt, who had 31 points Sunday for the Tribe, was scoreless in the first half and finished with four points.
Ford had no such trouble. He opened the second with a corner 3-pointer to extend the advantage to 13, a comfortable margin that was maintained early in the half before Thornton tried to carry William & Mary back.
His dunk, followed by lay-ins from Prewitt and Tarpey, forced a Northeastern timeout, its lead down to seven. But an 11-1 Northeastern run helped balloon the lead to 22, with Walker and Donnelly scoring 10 apiece in the second half.
Northeastern’s shots stopped falling around the four-minute mark, and William & Mary’s frantic comeback gave Northeastern a scare. Daniel Dixon had nine of his 15 points in the second half, but late free throws by Eatherton, Donnelly and Ford sealed the title.