By Dave Fairbank, email@example.com
10:19 PM EDT, March 10, 2014
BALTIMORE — It was close. A good look. He'd made more difficult shots, just two minutes earlier, as a matter of fact, as well as throughout the previous two days.
But Marcus Thornton's jump shot from the right wing caromed off the back of the rim with two seconds remaining, and William and Mary's chance for its first Colonial Athletic Association title, its first NCAA tournament berth, its place in history bounced away with it.
Delaware's 75-74 win in Monday's CAA tournament championship game at First Mariner Arena was a wrenching affair, replete with immense plays, comebacks big and small and a first-time champion that earned the title.
"A magnificent effort in the second half," Tribe coach Tony Shaver said. "We played with the passion and energy we wanted to play with. Very little that separates these two teams, that's for sure."
Top-seeded Delaware (25-9) won its first CAA title and earned the program's first NCAA tournament berth since 1999 by overcoming a six-point deficit in the final 1:18.
That occurred after William and Mary (20-12) erased a 12-point second-half deficit and had its first title within sight. The Tribe remains one of only five original Division I members never to appear in the NCAA tournament, and Monday was as close it's come in the modern era.
"It's extremely crushing," said Thornton, who led the Tribe with 22 points. "We don't want to hold ourselves to a low standard and say, we gave it our best shot. We wanted to win the game, we felt like we should win the game. We were in position to win the game, so we're definitely disappointed, but still proud of those guys."
A statistical glimpse conveys that William and Mary lost the game at the foul line and an inability to control Carl Baptiste.
The Tribe missed 8 of 11 free throws, including its only attempt of the second half — a crucial one-and-one opportunity. Meanwhile, Delaware made 15 of 18 free throws, which offset 43-percent shooting and sub-par production from Davon Usher, who torched the Tribe in two regular-season wins, yet still hit two big 3-pointers in the final minutes.
Baptiste, the 6-foot-9, 260-pound senior, scored a career-high 24 points and was all but unstoppable in the first half and on the eventual winning basket.
Omar Prewitt's 3-pointer from the left wing with 1:18 remaining gave the Tribe a 74-68 lead. Delaware hustled back and Devon Saddler sank two free throws after a foul eight seconds later to cut the margin to 74-70.
Prewitt (14 points) then missed the front end of a one-and-one, the Tribe's only attempt of the half. At the other end, clever Jarvis Threatt (18 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists) sliced his way into the lane for a driving layup and drew a foul. His three-point play cut W&M's lead to 74-73 with 51 seconds left.
On the Tribe's next offensive trip, Thornton missed a jump shot short with 32 seconds to play, and Usher rebounded. After a Delaware timeout, the Blue Hens swung the ball around and found Baptiste inside, who muscled in a basket with 10.8 seconds left.
William and Mary called a timeout and put the ball in Thornton's hands. The Tribe's leading scorer, who earlier this season hit a buzzer beater to defeat Drexel, elevated from the right wing. But his jump shot was long and bounced away.
"I thought I got a pretty good look," he said. "I lost the ball a little bit, I regained control. I thought it was a good look."
William and Mary lost both regular season games to the Blue Hens, including a runaway in Williamsburg when Threatt was suspended. But the team responded as it had the previous two days, overcoming a double-figure deficit to College of Charleston in the quarterfinals and outlasting a Towson team to which it also lost twice in the semifinals.
"I think the one thing we talked to at the beginning of the season about is competing," Shaver said. "We really competed this weekend. We didn't play a great first half, but we really competed down the stretch.
"Delaware gets a team down 12, they usually bury people, and we fought and we fought and we fought until we got back in it. And we really had control of the ballgame in the last minute."
Fairbank can be reached by phone at 757-247-4637.
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