This season's Tribe entered Wednesday's home game against Old Dominion ranked No. 243 by CollegeRPI.com, ahead of only winless Towson in the Colonial Athletic Association standings and bound for its 10th losing season in the last 13 years.
Yet coach Tony Shaver, whose X and O cred rates with more accomplished CAA colleagues such as ODU's Blaine Taylor and George Mason's Jim Larranaga, remains incurably upbeat.
Even during a 69-53 defeat, Shaver's body language Wednesday exuded confidence. About the only time his shoulders sagged was in exaggerated response to a referee's call he found objectionable.
A late first-half run that gave the Monarchs their first double-digit lead? A quick second-half start that goosed the margin to 22?
Shaver clapped his hands and offered encouragement.
Not that he expected a grand comeback. Wasn't going to happen on an evening when only ODU turnovers kept the first-half margin close.
"They're just superior to our team right now," Shaver said. "Gave us a gauge as to where we have to go."
Shaver understands the limitations — think Dirty Harry Callahan in "Magnum Force" — of a team that starts two freshmen guards, relies on a third rookie off the bench, has its best player nursing a bum left knee and is playing the conference's most physical team.
Those flaws were all too evident as ODU (19-6, 10-4 CAA) punished W&M (7-18, 3-11) inside and won for the 15th time in the programs' last 17 encounters.
The Monarchs outrebounded the Tribe 44-21, and W&M's one offensive rebound among 27 missed shots must be a low mark.
But in Shaver's mind, a split of road games last week at James Madison and UNC Wilmington was "pretty good." The victory at JMU was "a great and complete game for us. Every time they made a run at us, we had an answer, and that's not easy on the road."
Freshman guards Brandon Britt and Julian Boatner speak to a bright future, while junior Quinn McDowell's playing through a knee injury is "really amazing. From an efficiency standpoint, it's impressive that a guy could go out and execute that well without having a whole lot of practice time under his belt."
Hobbled a knee injury, McDowell hasn't practiced in more than a week. But against JMU and Wilmington he scored a combined 41 points while shooting 65 percent, and Wednesday he added 13 points on 5-of-10 shooting.
"I'm a lot better coach when he's playing," Shaver said. "I know that."
"It's good enough to play," McDowell said, the knee wrapped in ice post-game.
Also hurting: freshman reserve forward Tim Rusthoven, who returned from a four-game absence Wednesday with his sore left shoulder wrapped and managed 21 minutes.
"I think he probably played 10 too many minutes," Shaver said. "He may not make it the rest of the year. He may need to have surgery."
As the Tribe prepared for the Monarchs, Shaver voiced concern that Britt and Boatner "had hit a little bit of a wall … mentally and physically. They're not used to the daily demands of the college game."
Britt shot poorly, missing 9-of-14, but had four assists and no turnovers.
"Even though he's younger you can tell he has no fear in his heart," ODU senior Frank Hassell said.
Boatner lacks the size and speed of higher-caliber guards, but he's an excellent shooter, and Shaver applauds his "great feel for the game. … He's always in the right place."
Boatner made eight consecutive 3-pointers, five at JMU and his first three at Wilmington, after which he missed eight straight. Wednesday he was back "on," scoring 15 points on 5-of-6 shooting from beyond the arc.
"I thought they were shining stars for us tonight," Shaver said.
And, he believes, for many nights ahead.
David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime, and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeel