A few days after a tough loss at the College of Charleston in early February, William and Mary coach Tony Shaver said, “We’ve proven we can compete with anybody in the league. What we haven’t proven is that we can beat the best teams in this league.”
The Tribe has now.
On an afternoon when the Tribe saluted its seniors, W&M built a big halftime lead, faltered a little in the second, and survived Grant Riller’s long 3-pointer at the buzzer in regulation before going on to beat the Cougars 114-104 in overtime.
The upset didn’t improve the Tribe’s seeding in next week’s CAA tournament at the North Charleston (S.C.) Coliseum as Hofstra (19-11, 12-6) took the third seed with a victory over Towson (18-13, 8-10) on Saturday.
The Tribe (18-11, 11-7) earned the fourth seed and will play next Sunday at 2:30 p.m. against the fifth seed. Charleston (23-7, 14-4) is the top seed, followed by Northeastern.
“A great win,” Shaver said. “We beat the best team in the league today. It’s that simple. … We took a heck of a shot from them today. I think the thing I’m proudest of is how we’ve performed and the look in our face in the overtime. Probably nobody in the building gave us much of a shot to hold our ground in overtime, but our kids bowed their back and showed a lot of toughness.”
It also showed the rest of the league that the team picked in the preseason to finish eighth out of 10 teams has the ability to win the CAA tournament and the league’s automatic NCAA bid, which would be a first in school history.
David Cohn led the way with 30 points, Matt Milon had 20, Connor Burchfield and Nathan Knight 19 each, and Justin Pierce 16 against a team that was the toughest in the league to score on, giving up just 67.1 points a game.
“It’s my last game ever in Kaplan … and I didn’t want any regrets,” said Cohn, who topped 1,000 points in his college career with his performance and added nine assists, with just one turnover, in playing almost the entire game. “I just gave it my all and helped my teammates as much as I could win the game.”
“I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say he willed us to win tonight,” Shaver said. “He really just wasn’t going to have it any other way.”
Riller, who had 37 points in the Cougars’ 82-77 win over the Tribe in early February, had 29. Joe Chealey added 24, Jarrell Brantley 23 and Cameron Johnson 20.
W&M led 44-32 at the half and took its largest lead (16 points) less than two minutes into the second half. But Charleston slowly drew closer and was down just 84-82 with a little more than a minute left in the game. Despite making 11 of 12 free throws in the final minute, the Tribe was up by just three after a pair of free throws from Milon with three seconds left. Riller banked in about a 40-footer to force the extra five minutes.
“We couldn’t get a stop,” Shaver said. “But they hit some tough shots.”
In the overtime, the Tribe fell behind 99-97 but took the lead for good on a layup by Milon, who added a 3-pointer for a 104-99 advantage with 1:59 left. W&M then closed it out by going 8 for 8 from the line the rest of the way.
Pierce added eight rebounds for the Tribe, and Brantley led the Cougars with 12.
Johnson can be reached by phone at 757-247-4649. Follow him on Twitter at @DaveJohnsonDP.