Saturday, March 5, 2011

Dangerous Tribe embrace the past and the present

This will probably not happen tonight.

William & Mary coach Tony Shaver presided over one of the biggest Cinderella runs in CAA Tournament history in 2008, when the fifth-seeded Tribe won its first three games by a combined six points before falling to George Mason in the championship game.

Just one player remains from that team, and current senior starter Marcus Kitts scored three points in 29 minutes as a little-used freshman reserve. But whereas most coaches would see the lack of common players and shrug off comparisons to a long ago team, Shaver embraces the Tribe’s history and uses it as inspiration as 11th-seeded William & Mary—which advanced to tonight’s quarterfinal against Hofstra by upsetting sixth-seeded James Madison 72-68 Friday night—tries to make an even more unlikely climb to Monday.

“Well, I’d like to have some of the same players with us right now,” Shaver said with a grin late Friday night. “We did talk to our team about that success we’ve had here and we wanted to draw from the strength of the past performances here. When a game starts you’ve got to get inside those lines, play for 40 minutes, but we did want to draw from the strength of our past success.”

Shaver used a unique mixture of motivational factors as the Tribe prepared for its game Friday. While he spoke of the school’s recent history in the tournament—William & Mary, which also reached the CAA championship game last year, has won the second-most tournament games in the previous three years, behind only VCU—he also found a way to preach the one-game-at-a-time mantra every coach lives by this time of year.

“Honestly, we’ve thought very little about Hofstra at this point in time,” Shaver said. “We knew that would be our second-round matchup, if we were fortunate to get there, but I’ve told our players and I really do believe it: I don’t care whether you’re the one seed or the 12th seed, the first game in the tournament is the most difficult to win. If you think for one second beyond that, you’ll be home.”

The Tribe’s mixture of appreciation for its history and a young roster (nine of its 13 players are freshmen or sophomores) makes it a far more dangerous foe than its seed and record (4-14 CAA regular season, 10-21 overall) would seem. The Tribe throw multiple looks at teams on defense and are lethal from outside, where junior Quinn McDowell led William & Mary into the quarterfinals by setting a CAA Tournament record with 35 points in a blistering performance.

In addition, the Tribe lost seven league games by six points or less. “I guess a lot of people will define this team by their win and loss record—I don’t,” Shaver said. “This is a great group, a great team, and I thought we would walk on the floor with some inner arrogance tonight and we did.”

The Flying Dutchmen swept the season series, but William & Mary gave them fits and led by 10 in the first half of the first game in Williamsburg and had a chance to win the game in the waning seconds before freshman guard Brandon Britt was whistled for a travel. In the rematch, the Tribe led by 13 in the second half in Hempstead, where Charles Jenkins had to turn into a viral superstar—twice—to save the Dutchmen from defeat.

“In turning our attention to Hofstra we played them very well, we’ll walk on the court with confidence tomorrow night,” Shaver said. “I believe in our place we were down one, we had the ball for the last shot and didn’t make it. And at their place, a guy named Jenkins made two great shots to tie and then to beat us in overtime.”

Shaver had thought enough about Hofstra to know Friday night how he’d approach a similar late-game situation tonight. “One thing I’ll tell you is if we’re up one or two again, we’re gonna put five guys on Jenkins and somebody else is going to have to score the ball,” Shaver said with a laugh. “I’ll tell you that.”

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