W&M falls to Northeastern in CAA title game 72-61

Dave Fairbank
Contact Reporterdfairbank@dailypress.com

BALTIMORE — Comebacks have become part of William and Mary's repertoire. Twenty points to UNC Wilmington earlier this season. Up off the mat at least three times in an epic tournament semifinal win one day earlier.

But 22 points down with four minutes remaining to a poised, experienced bunch trying to make its own history was a bridge too far.

Third-seeded Northeastern carved up the Tribe for long stretches and held on for a 72-61 win in the Colonial Athletic Association tournament championship game Monday at Royal Farms Arena.

"A real disappointing night, that's for sure," Tribe head coach Tony Shaver said. "It's hard to put a finger on exactly what happened today. But I think in the simplest form, one team executed really well and one didn't."

William and Mary, the CAA's No. 1 seed for the first time in history, again came up short in its quest for a first conference tournament title and first NCAA trip.

The Tribe (20-12) has the consolation of a berth in the National Invitation Tournament, as regular-season champ. The NIT field will be announced Sunday night, after the NCAA tournament selections are made.

"It's good for us to be in a national tournament," Tribe senior guard Marcus Thornton said. "Obviously, not our main goal, so we're disappointed in that. But we definitely appreciate being able to make the NIT and play in it."

Thornton concluded his career on the CAA stage with 20 points. He nearly brought William and Mary back from the brink, as the Tribe rattled off 16 consecutive points to pull within 67-61 with 36 seconds remaining.

But Northeastern's Scott Eatherton hit a pair of free throws six seconds later. Thornton and Daniel Dixon missed 3-pointers at the other end, and the Huskies were able to run out the clock.

While William and Mary tried to shed its place among the so-called "Forgotten Five" — the five traditional Division I schools that have never made the NCAA tournament — Northeastern aimed to end its own NCAA drought.

The Huskies (23-11) earned their first trip to the NCAA tournament since 1991, thanks to a balanced, efficient offense and effective defense. They shot 59 percent from the field and made 12 of 20 shots from 3-point range. They also limited the CAA's most efficient offense to 38-percent shooting, just the third time all season the Tribe shot less than 40 percent.

"We just weren't really good with our hustle, what we wanted to do," Thornton said. "We let them drive the ball, they got deep penetration. They got kick-outs. That's something we talked about in pregame, we wanted to limit the good shots. They got off to a hot start. It was tough for us to come back from."

Fatigue may have been a factor. The Tribe's double-overtime 92-91 win against Hofstra on Sunday was physically and emotionally exhausting.

The dropoff was most evident for W&M sophomore Omar Prewitt. He scored a career-high 33 points against Hofstra, but managed just four points on 1-for-7 shooting Monday night.

Prewitt was often shadowed by 6-foot-8 Quincy Ford, who got the Huskies started at both ends of the floor. He scored eight of their first 10 points as they jumped out to a 10-0 lead, and had 15 of his game-high 22 points in the first half.

The Huskies exhibited offensive balance in the second half, working for quality shots against both William and Mary's man-to-man and zone defenses. Junior Caleb Donnelly scored 10 of his 13 points and made huge 3-pointers — two of which bookended a six-minute run in which Northeastern extended a seven-point lead to 65-43.

The Tribe gamely punched back and nearly made a game of it. But after its fourth trip to the CAA title game in eight years, the program's NCAA drought continues.

"We're all heartbroken right now, I don't want to kid you," Shaver said, "because we thought we were good enough to win this thing. And we wanted to put that dad-blame history stuff to rest, and we didn't. We didn't. We'll live with that. I do believe, you keep knocking on the door, the door's going to open."

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

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