There was a painful pattern to William & Mary’s last two basketball games of the season, neither of which ended the way the Tribe would have wanted.
Tuesday night, in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament at Tulsa, W&M faced a 21-point second-half deficit, eerily similar to its predicament in the Colonial Athletic Association tournament finals against Northeastern the previous week.
Grinding away against a taller, quicker Golden Hurricane squad, William & Mary actually cut the deficit to 3 in the waning seconds, had the ball, and an open shot to tie and force overtime.
But in a wild final sequence that was certainly not the way Coach Tony Shaver designed it, Rashad Ray knocked the ball from Omar Prewitt’s hand but directly to star guard Marcus Thornton, who was stationed near the sideline and way beyond shooting range.
However, Thornton found Terry Tarpey wide open across the court. The junior forward got off a clean look from 3-point range, but the shot missed and W&M took a 70-67 defeat.
''I wish we hadn't got down 21 points, but I was proud of the way we came back and battled in a tough situation,'' said Shaver. ''Tulsa's quickness and athleticism gave us a lot of trouble and their guards are really good, maybe the best we've played all year. Still we had a chance to tie and could have won.''
The team’s second consecutive 20-victory season ended with 13 losses as well. Thornton, the mercurial senior, finished with a game-high 23 points, 17 in the second half. He will graduate from the university with a school-record 2,178 points.
His points total elevated him to seventh on the CAA’s all-time scoring list. His 659 points this season is the second-best total in Tribe history, behind only the late Chet Giermak’s 740 in 1949.
The Upper Marlboro, Maryland, native also became W&M's all-time leader in games played, tying former Tribe players Kyle Gaillard and Matt Rum, with 127. Thornton's four triples on the night pushed his single-season 3-point field goal total to 102, most in W&M history.
Prewitt, who kept the Tribe in the game in the first half with 7 points and 8 rebounds, finished with the first “double-double” of his career, 15 points and 11 rebounds.
Tarpey, hampered by foul trouble for much of the game, nonetheless finished with a stat line of 14 points, six rebounds, five assists and a steal.
Unlike the title-game loss to Northeastern, in which the Huskies made 3-point jumper after 3-point jumper, Tulsa owned the baseline Tuesday night. Unofficially, 15 of the Golden Hurricane’s 27 baskets came on drives, dunks or follow shots from close range.
Tulsa used a 23-4 run, spanning the final 1:08 of the first half and opening 6:53 of the second half, to open up a 21-point lead. The Golden Hurricane scored the final five points of the first 20 minutes and the first nine points of the second half.
James Woodard scored four straight points to open the second half, pushing the TU lead to double digits for the first time, and forcing a W&M timeout just over a minute into the period. The Golden Hurricane run continued, as Woodard added a 3-pointer, before five straight points from Marquel Curtis following a Tribe bucket extended the TU lead to 53-34 with 14:15 remaining.
The cushion ballooned to 57-36 with 13:07 remaining on Ray’s layup.
W&M then clawed back, putting together a 10-1 run in less than two minutes. Prewitt knocked down a 3-pointer, before Thornton hit a step-back jumper. Tarpey scored the final five points of the run, including a steal and fast-break lay-up. He was fouled on the play and completed the old-fashion three-point play to draw the Tribe within 58-46 at 11:14 mark.
A Thornton 3-pointer cut the deficit to 64-56 with 7:38 remaining, but the margin was 10 with five minutes to play after a Smith layup. Tarpey answered on the ensuing Tribe possession, hitting a 3-pointer to ignite a seven-point W&M run. The Tribe closed the gap to three, 66-63, on a pair of Sean Sheldon free throws with 1:50 left.
After Curtis hit a 3-pointer to push the Golden Hurricane lead to six, W&M scored four straight points to draw within two with just 27 seconds remaining. Prewitt scored on a driving lay-up, before Thornton was fouled on a drive to the hoop and knocked down both freebies to cut the gap to 69-67.
The Tribe was forced to foul, and Tulsa's Brandon Swannegan hit 1-of-2 from the charity stripe with 20.2 seconds remaining to make it a three-point game, 70-67. On the ensuing Green and Gold possession, Thornton’s 3-point chance from the right wing was off the mark and TU pulled down the rebound.
The Golden Hurricane's Ray was fouled and proceeded to miss the front end of a 1-and-1. W&M came away with the rebound, giving the Tribe once last chance to tie the game.
W&M shot just 33.8 percent (22-of-65) from the field, but connected on 11 3-pointers. Tulsa finished the contest at 48.2 percent (27-of-56) shooting, including 8-of-20 from 3-point range. Curtis led TU with 21 points on 7-of-10 shooting, 3-of-4 from 3-point range and 4-of-4 from the free throw line.