Tuesday, November 29, 2011

William and Mary survives Norfolk State in 2OT

Evidently, this really isn't the same ol' William and Mary team.

Not the same ol' Norfolk State, either.

In both cases, that's a really good thing.

Based on recent history, we kind of figured the Spartans had a better chance of hitting the Mega Millions jackpot - with multiplier - than putting a late-game squeeze on the Tribe. And if somehow they managed to do it, the Tribe would simply tap out.

But when the spunky Spartans jumped ahead by two points Monday night, the Tribe battled back. They fell behind by four in overtime. Battled back again. Finally, after after ceding Norfolk State a five-point advantage in double overtime, the Tribe surged through to a 79-76 triumph at Echols Arena.

The Tribe (3-2) has owned this series in recent years - they'd won the past nine meetings by an average of 22.4 points - and were coming off a 19-point beatdown of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, so we expected the players might be somewhat chagrined that this one wound up so close. But after struggling so mightily in close games throughout a disastrous 2010-11 season, the Tribe wore this great escape like a badge of honor.

"I'm just so proud of my team for fighting and not giving up," said Tribe forward Emily Correal, who took a beating in the paint - dished out a pretty good one, too - on her way to a hard-earned 21 points and a game-high 15 rebounds. "We just have a totally new demeanor this year. We'll do anything to win."

Spoken like a player off a team that went 0-4 in overtime games last year.

While not really into moral victories, the rapidly improving Spartans (4-2) came away feeling pretty good about themselves, too.

"Overall this is probably the best game we've played considering the competition," NSU coach Debra Clark said. "If we can take this energy and effort into conference play, I think we'll see some great results."

They almost had a great result Monday night. The Spartans had a two-point lead (57-55) and the ball with 55 seconds left in regulation after a Rachel Gordon layup and a Janine Aldridge 3-point miss. But Aldridge stole Gordon's inbounds pass, and after a Tribe timeout, Taysha Pye calmly buried a baseline jumper with 25 seconds remaining.

In overtime, the Spartans got points on their first four possessions and led 67-63 with under two minutes left. This time it was Jaclyn McKenna's turn to rescue the Tribe, a she drained a pair of free throws and had a rebound putback with 13 seconds left to get William and Mary even. The Spartans were unable to get a shot off in the remaining time, and had turnovers on their previous two possessions.

Still, the Spartans had one more surge in them. Gordon directed the second overtime tip to Rae Corbo, who drove to the rim and laid it in. Recca Trice took it to the hole for the and-one on NSU's next possession. And Marion Brooks muscled in a layup to complete a 7-2 NSU run and put the Spartans up 74-69 with 3:39 to play.

NSU wouldn't score again until just three seconds remained, though, and the Tribe finally went into close-out mode. A Pye layup. Two Aldridge free throws. And with 1:27 left, Correal wheeled through the lane and completed an old-fashioned three-point play to put William and Mary ahead to stay at 76-74.

While Correal had the dazzling double-double, McKenna, a 6-3 forward who can get it done inside and also extend the defense to 3-point range, deserves equal billing for her 17-point, 8-rebound, 0-turnover effort. Pye, the All-CAA senior who on this night appeared to be letting the game come to her, added 12 points.

A quick note about Pye: No disrespect to women's basketball, but it's not too often I see a player do something so athletic I can't help but go, "Whoa, baby!'' Well, in Monday's second half, Pye landed after missing a layup, then sprung back up so high and so quickly to grab her own rebound my jaw hit the floor. Upon picking it back up, I could only say one thing:

Whoa, baby!

Long contributed 21 points, nailed all five of the Spartans' 3-pointers and some tenacious on-the-ball defense for NSU. Corbo added 18, Gordon had 12 and 13 rebounds and Batavia Owens finished with 10 points for NSU. Gordon, a 6-0 sophomore, has future All-MEAC performer written all over her.

It wasn't a perfect performance from either team. The Tribe can certainly shoot the ball better, and while NSU's defense certainly made things difficult, that doesn't entirely explain William and Mary's 25 turnovers. The Spartans were even more mistake-prone with 28 turnovers, and were particularly vulnerable when the Tribe heated things up with defensive pressure down the stretch.

Still, NSU showed that, even against a bigger, more experienced foe, it can play a close game. William and Mary proved that on nights when they can't produce their "A" game, they can win a close game.

And that, folks, is called progress.

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