CAA Q+A: William & Mary's Marcus Thornton talks playmaking and the Tribe's potential

USA TODAY Sports

Mid-Major Maddness caught up with William & Mary junior guard Marcus Thornton, who believes this is the year the Tribe can win the CAA.

Fresh off of a Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Week nod, William & Mary junior guard Marcus Thornton torched the Northeastern Huskies for 17 first-half points on Saturday night. Thornton finished with 25, thanks to some late-game free throws, and also added 5 assists while snagging 5 steals.

"I’m glad he’s on my team," Tribe head coach Tony Shaver said when asked what Thornton’s ceiling is as a player. "I will say, and I’ve told him this, he’s matured and grown as much individually as person and as a player of anybody I’ve ever coached. Marcus used to be just a scorer, just looking to score the ball. He’s a complete player now."

Thornton’s well-rounded game was the primary reason William & Mary jumped out to a 33-point second-half lead over Northeastern, before the game ended with an 82-70 victory for the Tribe.

"He leads our team, he’s a better defender, he had five assists tonight," Shaver continued. "I’ll let other people decide on his future, I’m glad he’s on my team and I want him to keep getting better. He loves this team; he really enjoys playing with this team. William & Mary’s a great fit for Marcus Thornton. We’re happy he’s here."

Behind Thornton and Shaver’s deep roster, the Tribe are 15-8 overall this season and have jumped out to a 7-3 CAA record, good for third place in the conference as of Sunday, Feb. 9.

Mid-Major Madness caught up with Thornton just after the team’s victory in Boston for the latest edition of the CAA Q+A.

Mid-Major Madness: You had 17 points at halftime and only finished with 25. It looked like you, and the team as a whole, started playing more passively with your big lead. What happened?

Marcus Thornton: I think our whole team got passive. We were up by so much and we were just trying to control the game, not take bad shots and really work the clock. It hurt us a little bit, being a little too passive with the ball, it gave them a chance to make it a little bit of a game. Luckily, we were able to pull it out.

MMM: I asked your coach just now [in the post-game press conference] what your ceiling is as a player and he really just talked about how far you’ve come since your freshman year, saying you were just a scorer and now you’re a playmaker. Do you feel that’s an accurate assessment?

MT: I agree. I think I get my teammates involved a lot more, being a leader for my team. I just do everything that they need me to do.

MMM: Yea, you were throwing some bullet cross-court passes on a rope tonight. When you’re driving through the defense, is your head on a swivel?

MT: Yea, definitely. I know teams pay a lot of attention to me when I’m playing so I’m looking for that extra-help guy to come over, that means somebody else is open.

MMM: You have this hitch in your shot once you hit the apex in your jump. That’s pretty abnormal for a deadeye shooter like you, but I’ve noticed it helps you get your shot off over bigger defenders, like a David Walker tonight.

MT: Yea, I try to get a lot of elevation on my shot. I lean back a little bit so that helps sometimes, too, to get it up over bigger guys. All that plays a part in it. I’ve just been working on it for a while.

MMM: Whenever I think of you as a player, I’m going to think back to Richmond and the CAA Tournament last year where you got a screen from Tim [Rusthoven] and you shook your defender, went away from the screen and pulled up from three for a chance to upset James Madison. Obviously it didn’t go in, but you’re really dangerous off the pick-and-roll, why do you think you thrive in that setting?

MT: [Laughs] Thanks. It gives me a chance to really put the defense in a bad position with a big man coming out. It’s hard for those big guys to guard quick guards like me so I just kind of hesitate to see what he’s going to do, whether he’s going to come out, or go around or sit back. Just being able to shoot, drive and change direction quickly really helps me a lot too.

MMM: How much have you worked on your handle and hesitation moves to throw defenders off guard and change directions like you do?

MT: A lot. I spend a lot of time working on my craft and doing what I can to better myself as a player. All that stuff matters, whether over the summer or during the season, working on that stuff constantly pays off. I do a lot of two-ball handling drills, just different variations of stuff with two balls—pound, alternate, cross—all different types of variations of two-ball stuff.

MMM: You obviously work on your shot, too.

MT: Yea. We have a gun machine so I shoot on that a lot and compete against my teammates from time to time.

MMM: When you’re unguarded, what do you shoot from three?

MT: [Smiles] Um, about 79-80 percent [laughs].

MMM: Last year when you guys played in Matthews Arena, you were on a seven or eight-game losing streak and in the bottom of the conference standings. Tonight you got William & Mary’s first win in this building, ever. What do you think about this team’s potential heading into the last few weeks of conference play?

MT: It’s great. It’s great. It’s great knowing that we haven’t even reached our full potential yet. I think today, for most of the game, we showed a bit of what we can do, how dangerous we can be. But we haven’t done that for 40 minutes yet, so I think we’re working towards getting there, working hard every day in practice. It’s going to be exciting when we get there.

MMM: This being Tim’s senior year, he’s obviously the key cog in your front court, is this your year to win the CAA?

MT: I think it is. I think it is. We’ll do what we need to do to keep improving. I think the best is yet to come.

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