WILLIAMSBURG — With rapid ball movement, precise cuts and proper spacing, William and Mary’s offense can make any defense look lost. But the defining sequence of the Tribe’s ode to efficiency Monday was more about raw talent than X’s and O’s.
First, junior Marcus Thornton elevated on the left wing for a pull-up, no-conscience 3-pointer in transition. Then, again on the break, freshman Omar Prewitt drove to the bucket off the right side and threw down an emphatic two-handed dunk.
The Kaplan Arena crowd of 2,730, not to mention the Tribe bench, came to their feet. William and Mary led the College of Charleston by eight points late in the second half en route to a 74-63 victory that sets up an intriguing matchup Wednesday against visiting Delaware.
The Blue Hens (14-7, 6-0) will arrive and depart Williamsburg atop the Colonial Athletic Association. But if the second-place Tribe (12-7, 4-2) can approach Monday’s second-half excellence for 40 minutes Wednesday, Delaware will suffer its first league defeat.
Most important, William and Mary will have established itself as the Blue Hens’ primary challenger.
The teams met two weeks ago at Delaware, the Blue Hens prevailing 76-71. The Tribe led by six points at halftime, but Delaware shot 53.8 percent after intermission, 45.5 percent from beyond the 3-point arc.
“We should have some confidence from it,” William and Mary coach Tony Shaver said. “We had a chance to win that ballgame up there. Didn’t play a great second half. We really struggled to stop them.
“They’re very good offensively. Their two guards (Devon Saddler and Jarvis Threatt) are as good as we’ll play against all year long. … I think it’s going to come down to some of the little things in the game. The first to the floor, the first to the loose ball, first to the 50-50 rebound.”
Saddler, Threatt and wing Davon Usher combined for 62 of Delaware’s 76 points against William and Mary. At 81.1 points per game, the Blue Hens lead the CAA in scoring by a wide margin over the second-place Tribe (73.1), but Shaver’s team was second to none during Monday’s second half.
Trailing by nine at the break, William and Mary shot better than 60 percent inside and beyond the 3-point arc. The Tribe did not commit a second-half turnover and scored 49 points on 29 possessions, an other-worldly 1.69 points-per-possession.
As usual, Thornton was the catalyst. The CAA’s top scorer at 19.5 points per game, he scored 17 of his game-high 26 in the second half. He made 6-of-7 shots, 3-of-4 from deep.
Like most of Shaver’s squads, this one is unusually reliant on 3-pointers. More than 35 percent of William and Mary’s scoring comes from beyond the arc, which ranks 13th nationally according to stats maven Ken Pomeroy’s website.
But all of the Tribe’s first 20 shots Monday were inside the arc, and William and Mary’s first made 3 didn’t come until 18:04 remained in the second half, courtesy of Kyle Gaillard.
That temporary lack of long-range shooting spoke to how Charleston defended the pick-and-roll, and to how the Tribe shrewdly adjusted, driving to the basket rather than forcing jumpers.
“We guarded their Princeton offense as well as anybody,” Cougars coach Doug Wojcik said.
“Marcus really turned it on,” Shaver said. “But we have so many weapons at times. (Julian) Boatner made … big shots. Brandon (Britt) got the driving game going. I thought Omar (had a) beautiful assist. Transition dunk was pretty impressive for a young freshman, but it impresses me more to see him drive and kick the ball to open people. Lot of guys playing well for us.”
Given that Wednesday is the Tribe’s fourth game in eight days, Shaver needs that depth. The stretch began with a 77-60 setback at Hofstra, followed by a 68-66 victory at Drexel on Thornton’s right-wing 3-pointer at the buzzer — check out the video online of Thornton twice crossing over Dragons freshman Major Canady to create the shot.
No telling how William and Mary would have responded had Thornton missed and the team had been saddled with a two-game slide entering Charleston.
“I know every basketball team has a brutal stretch,” Shaver said. “But this is incredible for us right now. Four games in eight days. Five games in 11 days. Five out of seven on the road. … Maybe the experience of our ballclub is showing through a little bit.”
Shaver has limited recent practices to minimize fatigue.
“Being fresh mentally and physically right now is more important than listening to me at practice, I can tell you that,” he said.
Tuesday’s practice also was scheduled to be brief. Study tape of Delaware, spend less than an hour on the court.
“They’re clearly the best right now,” Shaver said of the Blue Hens, “and we’ve got a chance to see what we can do against them.”
The hunch here is they can do plenty.