Marcus Thornton’s record-setting 37-point performance was anything but a decoy, but after he and William & Mary teammate Omar Prewitt dominated for nearly 50 minutes, Thornton’s countless drives and pull-up jumpers set up the perfect look for the game’s final shot.
A triple-teamed Thornton feigned a contested jumper, dished to an open Daniel Dixon in the corner, and looked on as Dixon's resulting 3-pointer with half-a-second remaining in the second overtime period gave top-seeded William & Mary a 92-91 win over fifth-seeded Hofstra in a thrilling start to Sunday’s CAA semifinal doubleheader before an announced crowd of 3,703 at Royal Farms Arena.
“We had to rely way too much on Marcus and Omar tonight,” Tribe coach Tony Shaver said. “But that’s what great players do. When you need them, they’re there.”
Thornton missed a no-hope three at the first overtime buzzer. A year ago in the CAA finals, his game-winning jumper at the horn failed, too.
So presented with another chance, the CAA Player of the Year and Upper Marlboro native passed on the opportunity to cap a tournament-record-setting game with a game-winner.
“I think it’s a big step for Marcus, trusting his teammates,” Shaver said. “We really thought they’d probably double [or] triple team him, and we tried to use two good shooters as props. Just a very unselfish play, and what a big play for Daniel Dixon.”
Prewitt added a career-high 31 points in the win, while junior guard Terry Tarpey added 12 points and 10 rebounds. The Tribe will face No. 3 Northeastern in Monday’s championship game.
Guard Juan’ya Green led Hofstra with 26 points. Dion Nesmith scored 16 of his 21 points in the second half.
Prewitt and Thornton helped build a 21-11 first-half Tribe lead that Hofstra negated with the first of many runs, this one a 15-1 stretch keyed by forward Rokas Gustys and Green that created 26-22 Hofstra lead.
The final shot of that run, a 3-pointer by Green, sparked a hot streak from Thornton, who hit three straight threes in barely over a minute to erase the small deficit. Green, who led Hofstra with 11 first-half points, answered with a three of his own. William & Mary led, 35-32, at the break.
Nesmith starred in the second half, but couldn’t help the Pride pull away. Thornton and Prewitt kept William & Mary ahead, but Green scored, created, then stole and scored again to cut the lead to 47-46 within a minute’s time.
Green sparked a 13-0 Hofstra run that extended the Pride’s lead to 53-47 with 9:44 remaining. Prewitt and Thornton combined for the Tribes’ next seven points to pull back within one.
But after a 3-pointer from Dixon leveled the score for William & Mary, a 9-0 run sparked by two 3-pointers from Hofstra guard Brian Bernardi and another from Nesmith put the Pride up, 68-59, with five minutes remaining.
Thornton and Prewitt led William & Mary to overtime. The pair had 32 of William & Mary’s 36 second-half points, and once the first overtime started, had nine of 10 points in that session.
Tarpey had four of his 13 in the second overtime, and Hofstra led late thanks to a 3-pointer by Green with 22 seconds to play. Hofstra’s coaches told the defenders not to collapse on Thornton, but two did, and Dixon sealed a trip to the title game.
There, William & Mary can earn the school’s first ever NCAA tournament bid. The expectation hasn’t been a burden on them.
“We haven’t shied away from the fact we’re a No. 1 seed,” Thornton said. “We’re the top team in this conference this year, regular-season champs. … We want to embrace that and we want to play like it.”
Standing in their way is Northeastern, the preseason pick to win the CAA and a 78-71 winner of second-seeded UNC Wilmington in Sunday’s second semifinal.
Senior forward Scott Eatherton led all scorers with 21 points, one of five Huskies to reach double figures in the victory. David Walker, Caleb Donnelly, Devon Begley and Reggie Spencer had 11 points apiece for Northeastern, which took the lead with over 11 minutes remaining in the game.
Jordan Talley led UNC Wilmington with 18 points and Craig Ponder had 17 points.