The William & Mary Tribe kicked off their 2014 Colonial Athletic Association conference schedule with an impressive 85-73 win over the visiting Drexel Dragons on Wednesday night. The victory was the Tribe’s eighth in their last ten games.
"It’s been a pretty solid stretch for us and I think one of the things we’ve had to do, as all teams do, is adjust," William & Mary head coach Tony Shaver said Tuesday during the weekly CAA coaches teleconference. The Tribe has been without a number of contributing players this season due to suspension and injury. "I think we’ve got four road wins right now which is a difficult thing to do in college basketball."
If you look down Shaver’s bench this winter, you’ll see a lot of familiar faces. Now in his 10th year at William & Mary, Shaver has a loaded senior class in Tim Rusthoven, Brandon Britt and Kyle Gaillard. This season, Julian Boatner has also come alive. Marcus Thornton, one of the most dynamic scorers in all of the CAA is now a junior as well, and Terry Tarpey, a 6-5 guard, is starting in his sophomore campaign. Shaver recognizes his team’s experience is one of its biggest strengths.
"I think experience has been one of the key factors for us. We’ve talked a great deal to this team about physical and mental toughness," Shaver said. "I thought it was a quality missing from our team a year ago, we lost a lot of close basketball games for a variety of reasons but I think physical and mental toughness were keys in those games. We’re stronger in those areas and it’s been a factor in those road wins, no question."
Add freshman sensation Omar Prewitt to the mix, a 6-6 guard averaging 14.1 points—good for second on the team behind Thornton—and shooting 40.3 percent from three-point land and this might be the most talented group Shaver has ever coached in Williamsburg, Va. And even though Prewitt was named CAA Rookie of the Week five times during non-conference play, Shaver denies viewing this year as "the year" for the Tribe.
"I really haven’t thought in those terms. To me, the year you’re in is the most important," Shaver said. "I do think the best teams I’ve coached at William & Mary have been experienced teams and we have some experience, which often leads to successful seasons. But I’ve never pointed just to this year. I think, quite honestly, if we can get everybody on the floor together, we’ve got a chance to be pretty darn good."
Perhaps Shaver didn’t expect his team to be 9-5 at this point in the season because he didn’t know Prewitt would be this good, this fast.
"You never know quite know how a freshman will react to different qualities of play at the college level. I will say that when we recruited Omar, we recruited him for a long, long time very hard and we thought we had a jewel," Shaver said. "We have a great young player who loves the game, knows the game and is skilled. I can’t say we thuoght he would jump in here and be our second-leading scorer, but he’s a talented young man and has a great feel for the game of basketball and obviously he’s really, really helping our team."
The Tribe showed just how well-rounded this team is in their victory over Drexel. Of course, Thornton paced the squad with 18 points, but Prewitt and Britt were right behind him with 15 points apiece. Gaillard chipped in 14, Tarpey scored 9 and Rusthoven added 8 points in just 17 minutes as he overcomes a lingering foot injury and finishes battling the flu.
None of that should come as a surprise, Shaver’s teams have always been successful on the offensive end. What will bring this William & Mary group to true contention for the CAA crown will be an improvement on defense.
"I think we’re better, no question. Our numbers don’t show it. We’re still allowing our opponents to score and shoot a good clip on us, in my opinion. But what this team has done is in key moments get key stops," Shaver said. "We’re getting them. We’ve gotta find some consistency in our defensive principles and our defensive effort if we really want to be a great team in the CAA."
The Tribe limited Drexel to just 16.7 percent shooting from three-point land but still yielded 55.8 percent shooting on two-point field goals. It’s at least a start. And a win over the Dragons is just the beginning of what looks to be a very successful season for Shaver and William & Mary.
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