BALTIMORE, Md. – They call this harbor town “Charm City.”
Don’t tell that to the William & Mary men’s basketball team. For the Tribe, there’s nothing charming about it.
For the second straight year, the Tribe fell in the championship game of the Colonial Athletic Association tournament at Royal Farms Arena. This night’s attempt at making the NCAA tournament, its ninth, ended with a 72-61 loss to Northeastern and the university on the outside looking in.
Once again, the Tribe (20-12) endured another painful evening in which the post-game hugs between players were attempts to console, not celebrate. Once again, the ovation received from a often-crazed crowd that was probably 85 percent pro-Tribe was one of appreciation for a gallant effort expended, if not glory realized.
“We’re crushed – crushed,” Tribe coach Tony Shaver said. ‘We talked before this game that the most important thing to do was execute. And we didn’t execute. As a team, we’ve got to learn that. I think their experience showed. They did what they wanted to do tonight – and we were out of character.
“We’ll keep knocking on the door, and one of these times it’s going to open.”
William & Mary’s consolation prize is the university’s third trip to the National Invitation Tournament. The Tribe will find out who they play – and where – Sunday night at 8:30 in the Sadler Center’s Commonwealth Auditorium.
Northeastern (23-11) scored the game’s first 10 points, a lead that the Tribe ate into time after time – but never overcame.
The Huskies shot a light’s-out 63.6 percent in the first half, and didn’t suffer a significant drop after intermission. Northeastern hit 54.5 percent of its second-half shots to finish the game at 59.1 percent.
Incredibly, they hit 12-of-20 3-point shots, and, true to their regular-season form, placed four players in double figures, led by junior forward Quincy Ford (22 points), who made 4-of-5 from beyond the arc, David Walker (15 points) and Caleb Donnelly, who canned 4-of-6 long-distance attempts.
Donnelly, a walk-on junior, was especially damaging. In the first half, William & Mary pulled within seven with 33 seconds to go when Donnelly splashed a 3-pointer to push the lead back to 10.
Later, he did it again. W&M chopped the lead to seven points with 11:43 to play, forcing Northeastern coach Bill Coen to call a timeout, during which Tribe students chanted “I believe we’re gonna win ... I believe we’re gonna win ... I believe we’re gonna win.”
Donnelly immediately drilled a 3-point shot to hush them.
William & Mary trailed by 22 points with just under five minutes to play before putting on a scintillating run to at least give themselves a chance at a miracle finish. The Tribe cut that lead to six on Marcus Thornton’s 3-point jumper with 36.5 seconds left, but Northeastern sealed the deal by converting five of its final six free throws.
Coming off Sunday’s emotion-wrought, double-overtime semifinal victory over Hofstra, it wouldn’t have been a surprise had the Tribe come out either flat or fatigued.
If Thornton and his coach were buying it, it was grudgingly.
“I’m not sure I thought we were ready to play,” Thornton said. Thornton scored a team-leading 20 points, but needed 17 shots to do it. Daniel Dixon added 15, Terry Tarpey chipped in 10.
“We were excited to play,” Thornton continued, “but they played a game yesterday, too, so we’re not going to say that’s why we started out that way.”
Added Shaver: “I don’t think there’s any question it was a factor, but I don’t want to spend a lot of time on it. It’s going to be viewed as an excuse, and it’s not an excuse.
“We talked about that this morning as a ball club. We had a quick shoot-around meeting. We told them, ‘We’ve got to put yesterday behind us, no excuses today. You’ve got more left in that tank than you think you do.’ We were a little sluggish today, but that’s our problem, not fatigue.”
More than two hours before tip-off, at least 100 Tribe fans gathered at a nearby tavern, with a constant, steady stream of excited supporters making the short walk from the arena to the watering hole.
Moments later, the Tribe pep band, cheerleaders and the Griffin made their entrance – and the room exploded with cheers and applause.
Mike Florence ’69 of Chantilly, Virginia, attending his second CAA tournament, left no doubt who he thought would take the title.
“One hundred percent confident we win tonight,” he said.
Reveler Steve Clinton explained that he bought tickets for himself and his wife two weeks ago, but had just come down for the final. Like the rest of William & Mary fans, they watched the semifinal game, alternately telling each other “We’re going ... We’re not going” – five times.
David Meyer ’82 of Richmond has missed less than a handful of CAA tournaments since graduation.
“I went to the first one in ’83, when we lost to JMU,” he said, then emphasized, “at the buzzer.”
“My frustration level in the early 2000s was high, when we would lose in the first round,” he said. “The last eight years? Awesome.”
Just not on this Monday night in a city whose charm is lost on his favorite basketball team and its fans. Maybe the third time?
Editor's note: Thornton and Omar Prewitt made the all-tournament team, along with Hofstra's Juan'ya Green, David Walker, Quincy Ford and Scott Eatherton of Northeastern.