William and Mary men's basketball maintained, even if it didn't reach its goal

Dave Johnson
Contact Reporterdjohnson@dailypress.com
The last time the Tribe won 20 games in three consecutive seasons was when Harry Truman was president.

BALTIMORE — Thirty minutes following a three-point loss in the conference semifinals isn't the ideal time to summarize a season. But that was the question posed to William and Mary coach Tony Shaver on Sunday afternoon.

On one hand, the Tribe fell short of its goal of winning the Colonial Athletic Association championship and making its first NCAA tournament appearance. The jury's still out as to whether there will be any type of postseason bid.

On the other hand, the program maintained, which was no small feat given the loss of conference Player of the Year Marcus Thornton. W&M won 20 games for the third consecutive season. The last time the Tribe did that, Harry Truman was in the White House.

So no, William and Mary didn't get everything it wanted. But consider this: In 111 seasons, Tribe basketball has won at least 20 games only nine times. Three of those were in 2013-14, 2014-15 and 2015-16.

"It's hard to look at the big picture at this moment, but I will say that we're very proud of the consistent excellence we've shown," Shaver said following Sunday's 70-67 loss to Hofstra. "Three years of 20 wins is not a small thing for a mid-major program, and I'm very proud of that.

"Any time you're trying to build a program, you want to be good every year. Five, six, seven years ago we'd have a good year and then we'd end up playing freshmen the next year. We lost a guy like Marcus Thornton, arguably the best player in our history, and we came back with a really good team this year."

With an 11-7 conference record, William and Mary finished tied for fourth in what might have been the most balanced CAA ever. The league as a whole is ranked ninth in the RPI despite no single team being in the top 50.

Of course, things could have been better. On Feb. 11, the Tribe was 17-6 and in sole possession of second place, a game behind UNC Wilmington. Its RPI was an at-large friendly 37. But starting with a home loss to Hofstra that night, W&M dropped four of its last six regular-season games.

The Tribe responded with a solid 79-64 win over James Madison in Saturday's quarterfinals. And though W&M lost in the final 10 seconds to Hofstra on Sunday, Shaver knew he had gotten every ounce of effort from his team.

"Our execution wasn't good enough," he said. "But boy, we really competed."

The Tribe is hoping for a bid to the NIT, which announces its field Sunday night. The chances look to be less than 50-50.

It's a safe bet that the loser of Monday night's CAA final between Hofstra and UNC Wilmington will receive an invite. The Pride would be automatic as the Colonial's regular-season champion (by tie-breaker), and the Seahawks are 57th in the RPI.

If the NIT takes a second team from the CAA, William and Mary would have the highest RPI of the remaining choices at No. 66. This despite the fact it lost twice to Towson (RPI: 152).

Even if there is no postseason, William and Mary should consider 2015-16 a positive. And looking ahead, there's no reason the Tribe couldn't have an unprecedented fourth consecutive 20-win season.

The Tribe loses two starters in Terry Tarpey, the CAA's two-time Defensive Player of the Year, and Sean Sheldon, who in four years improved probably as much as any player Shaver has coached. Neither will be easy to replace.

But the Tribe will return its top two scorers in Omar Prewitt and Daniel Dixon along with its assist leader in David Cohn. Sixth man Greg Malinowski, who scored a career-high 22 points in Sunday's loss to Hofstra, is clearly ready to step into a high-profile role.

Jack Whitman and Hunter Seacat, both 6-foot-9 are back. So is Connor Burchfield, who shot 56 percent from the 3-point arc, and Oliver Tot, a solid backup at the point.

"We'll have a hard time replacing Terry and Sean, but we think we have good options," Shaver said. "We wanted to be consistent and we're proud of that, no doubt about it."

Johnson can be reached by phone at 757-247-4649.

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