Strapped with expectations as the top seed seeking its schools' first ever NCAA tournament berth, William & Mary took a comfortable first step in that direction with a 72-59 win over No. 8 Elon in Saturday's first Colonial Athletic Association quarterfinal game at Royal Farms Arena.
"Being the No. 1 seed for the first time in history, we talked a lot about being the aggressive team, playing with no fear out here tonight, and I thought our kids looked pretty relaxed and pretty confident," William & Mary coach Tony Shaver said. "That's a neat thing, because a lot has been put on their shoulders here."
CAA Player of the Year Marcus Thornton (Upper Marlboro) scored a game-high 17 points, and sophomore forward Omar Prewitt scored 10 of his 16 points in the second half for the Tribe, one of five original NCAA Division I teams to have never made the men's basketball tournament.
"I've probably … tried to shield them from the pressure of our past, and I've talked a lot about [how] this is not this team's burden to be the first," Shaver said. "This team wants to be the first, so we're embracing the opportunity that we have."
William & Mary faces the winner of Saturday's quarterfinal between No. 4 James Madison and No. 5 Hofstra Sunday. Elon's first CAA season ended at 15-18.
The Tribe, one of the league and nation's top three-point shooting teams, made 11 of 29 attempts from deep and used their favored weapon to build an early lead. Four of their first six field goals were from three and they built a 20-10 lead in the opening 10 minutes.
Elon closed the gap throughout the half with help from senior guard Austin Hamilton and CAA Rookie of the Year Elijah Bryant, who combined for 16 first-half points, but once Thornton began scoring, William & Mary took control.
Thornton missed the only shot he took in the first dozen minutes of the game, but made a buzzer-beating three entering halftime to give himself a team-high eight points and open up a 10-point halftime lead.
Thornton and Prewitt starred for William & Mary in the second half, extending the lead to 18 points at one point. Prewitt's big second half included a fast-break dunk midway through the half that set off the pro-Tribe crowd, who set the tone for a lively quarterfinal day.
Bryant finished with a team-high 15 points, one of three Phoenix in double-figures along with Hamilton (13) and guard Tanner Samson (11). Guard Daniel Dixon added 12 for William & Mary, and forward Terry Tarpey had eight points and a game-high nine rebounds