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W&M holds off Hofstra 79-74 in home finale

By Dave Fairbank, dfairbank@dailypress.com

10:20 PM EST, February 26, 2014

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WILLIAMSBURG — William and Mary freshman Omar Prewitt hasn't been bashful about shooting since he stepped on campus, nor has he worn down noticeably at the end of his first college season. Lucky for the Tribe, particularly Wednesday.

Prewitt helped make it a memorable home finale for the seniors as W&M held off a 40-grit Hofstra team 79-74 at Kaplan Arena in the next-to-last regular season game before next week's CAA tournament in Baltimore.

The lanky 6-foot-6 wing scored 16 points and took over the game during a critical stretch late as the Tribe (18-10, 10-5 CAA) won for the sixth time in its last eight games.

"I was just staying in the offense," Prewitt said. "I got more open shots than the first half. I'm going to take them when I'm open and they were falling for me."

Prewitt hit two XXL 3-pointers from opposite corners and notched eight consecutive points in what turned into a mini-duel with Hofstra scoring machine Zeke Upshaw (28 points). Each time Upshaw scored to pull the Pride within one possession, Prewitt answered.

Prewitt also grabbed a couple of big defensive rebounds late, as the Tribe finally put the game to rest with key free throws in the final 37 seconds.

"Runaway Rookie of the Year, runaway," Hofstra coach Joe Mihalich said of Prewitt.

"I've said all along, he's a special player," Tribe coach Tony Shaver said. "He's got a chance to have a special career. I love his confidence. He's a very tough, confident young man, with a spindly body that'll get bigger. But he's a tough kid and really believes in himself. And what a great tribute to our players for getting him the ball in those key spots as well. He made huge plays."

Said forward Terry Tarpey: "We all know Omar's a good shooter, so if he has an open shot, we want him to take it — everyone on our team."

Prewitt was far from alone. Brandon Britt scored 10 of his 16 points in the first half. Fellow senior Kyle Gaillard hit 6 of 7 shots and scored 10 of his 15 points in the second half. Tarpey, one of a half-dozen guys who took turns trying to slow Upshaw, contributed 10 rebounds, four assists and two steals in 24 energetic minutes.

William and Mary hung on despite a sub-par shooting performance from leading scorer Marcus Thornton (13 points, 4-for-11) and two points from post man Tim Rusthoven.

"What's so important about this game is we battled to win," Shaver said, "and secondly, I would say, Marcus didn't shoot the ball well, Tim Rusthoven has two points, and we win. Two months ago, who would have believed that?"

The Tribe needed everyone's contributions against a Hofstra team that gamely fought back, despite just seven contributing bodies. The Pride (8-22, 4-11 CAA) trailed by 10 at halftime and 60-46 with 10 minutes remaining, but swarmed back to make W&M sweat.

The Pride made 11 3-pointers — seven from Upshaw — and were especially effective on the offensive boards. Hofstra turned 17 offensive rebounds into 20 second-chance points.

Rebounding is the final phase of defense, and it almost cost William and Mary again, as it prepares for Saturday's season finale at Towson and next week's tournament.

"We just don't do it for 40 minutes," Shaver said. "We talk about it all the time. We work on the clock with it. I told our players … if we want to consider ourselves a team capable of winning a championship in three straight nights, we have to be better defensively. We can't have stretches where we get scored on easily."

Fairbank can be reached by phone at 757-247-4637.