W&M is riding an amazing 4-game shooting roll

Dave Johnson
Contact Reporterdjohnson@dailypress.com

After losing four starters from last season, including two unexpected transfers, William and Mary coach Tony Shaver came into November facing gloom-and-doom questions. How can you win with no proven scorer? With no depth in the post? With no defensive stopper?

Shaver acknowledged those points, but he added this: “This is the best shooting team I’ve coached here.” And, a few seconds later, “We’ll be a fun team to watch.”

Neither was evident in the first three games, but W&M has been on a stunning roll since. In its last four games, the Tribe has shot 59 percent (69-of-117) from the 3-point arc. And averaged 101 points a night.

Never in the program’s history had William and Mary made that many 3-pointers in a four-game stretch. Never had the Tribe scored at least 100 points in three of its first seven games.

But it’s all by design.

“Number one, we recruit shooters,” Shaver said Monday morning. “It’s not a surprise to us that these guys can shoot. Number two, we do spend an inordinate amount of time shooting.

“That’s probably the biggest change for me from my first 10 years of coaching to my last 10 is that we really practice shooting the ball. And we get a lot of volume and repetition in doing so.”

No one has been hotter than senior Connor Burchfield, who in his last four games has shot 69.7 percent (23 of 33) from the arc. In last week’s 114-104 win over Marshall, he made a school-record 10 3-pointers in 12 attempts.

Burchfield started five games in his first three seasons but still led the nation in 3-point percentage as a sophomore. He’s now averaging 24 minutes a game.

“For three years, he’s been a young guy who had a real important role on our team, but he wanted to play more,” Shaver said. “He did something that’s really rare today. He decided, ‘I’m going to stick it out and get my degree from William and Mary. I’m going to be a great teammate.’

“Most guys today, they go find what they perceive as happiness somewhere else. I’m so happy he’s reaping the benefits of a good decision.”

A well-told story at William and Mary is that Burchfield once made 82 consecutive shots from the 3-point arc in practice. Not from one spot, but around the world.

“We had an assistant see it happen,” Shaver said. “He didn’t just come in and say, ‘I did this.’”

Matt Milon, a lefty transfer from Boston College, has made 15 of 44 from deep in his last four games. Point guard David Cohn is 8 of 13 and wing Justin Pierce 7 of 14.

William and Mary (5-2) leads all 351 Division I teams in 3-point percentage (48.1) and is tied for second in makes (12.9 per game).

“I don’t know if we’re always going to shoot 60 percent from 3, but there’s not a lot of guys you can cheat off,” Shaver said. “We’ve got a lot of guys who can shoot it, and that makes (us) hard to guard.”

A Debbie Downer note: W&M’s last four opponents include a Division III program (Shenandoah) and two teams ranked 335th or worse in scoring defense (Marshall and Savannah State). The Tribe did torch Old Dominion, traditionally strong on defense, for 15-of-25 shooting from 3.

Also, W&M is giving up 81.6 points a game on 46-percent shooting from the field. Though it has scored at least 100 points in three games, the Tribe has allowed that many in two.

One day, maybe as soon as Wednesday night at George Mason, the shots won’t fall. Even the Golden State Warriors have an off night. What then?

“We talk about this all the time: Are we going to be good enough defensively to win that game?” Shaver said. “I’m not sure the answer is yes right now. We’ve got to get better on that end of the floor.

“We weren’t a very tough basketball team our first couple of games. We got manhandled every possible way. But they’ve toughened up. This team seems eager to learn and get better, and we’ve gotten better.”

Johnson can be reached by phone at 757-247-4649. Follow him on Twitter at @DaveJohnsonDP.

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