A pair of second-half runs Thursday night did more than propel William and Mary to a 96-83 comeback victory over UNC Wilmington. They also made sure the Tribe would finish no worse than fourth in the Colonial Athletic Association regular-season standings.
With one regular-season game remaining, Saturday at home against the College of Charleston, the Tribe (17-11, 10-7) is in fourth place, one game behind third-place Hofstra (18-11, 11-6) and two ahead of fifth-place Towson (18-12, 8-9).
Charleston (23-6, 14-3) and Northeastern (20-9, 13-4), respectively, have clinched the top two spots in the conference tournament, which begins March 3 at the North Charleston (S.C.) Coliseum.
Going into Thursday’s game at Kaplan Arena, the Tribe could have finished anywhere from third to a tie for sixth.
The Tribe, which snapped a two-game losing streak, placed four players in double figures, led by Justin Pierce with 22 and Connor Burchfield with 20. Nathan Knight added 18, and Matt Milon had 14.
After trailing by nine, the Tribe used an 11-0 run to start the second half to take a 49-47 lead. W&M added another 10-2 run after the Seahawks had cut the lead to 75-73 with just less than eight minutes to go. In the run, Burchfield had a traditional three-point play, followed by a 3-pointer from Milon from the left corner, right in front of the Tribe bench. A 3-pointer by Paul Rowley from the right corner gave W&M a 90-79 lead with 3:01 to go.
“We just needed to come out way stronger in the second half,” said David Cohn, who added nine points and 11 assists. “Coach gave us a good message, and all of us knew that it was the first four minutes of the second half (that would make the difference). We came out with a lot of energy, got a lot of stops.”
Tribe coach Tony Shaver said the key was his players took his halftime message to heart.
“I’m really proud of our second half,” he said. “Great basketball the last 20 minutes. I challenged our guys pretty good at halftime today, and the key is how they responded to it. They responded well, and got back to sharing the basketball the way we have played all year long.”
UNCW (9-20, 6-11) was led by Jaylen Fornes with 27 points. Jordon Talley, who played at Henrico High in Richmond, and Devontae Cacok each added 18, and Ty Taylor had 14. Cacok added 12 rebounds.
The Tribe now has won at least 10 conference games for the fifth consecutive season, a first in program history. The Tribe has six such seasons in Shaver’s 15 with the Tribe. Before Shaver arrived in Williamsburg, the Tribe had just one season of 10 conference wins.
W&M has won 10 of 12 against UNCW, including two games this season. Cohn had double figures in assists for the sixth time this season, tops in the CAA.
The Seahawks took a 47-38 lead at the half behind 14 points from Fornes, 12 from Taylor and 10 from Cacok. The Tribe had 10 from Knight (4 for 4 from the field) and seven from Pierce. The Tribe led 34-32 with 4:22 left in the half before Wilmington closed on a 15-4 run. There were 13 lead changes in the half, and the score was tied three times.