HARRISONBURG, Va. (TribeAthletics.com) Stops were hard to come by for William & Mary in the second half Saturday afternoon. But with the game on the line, and James Madison ready to force overtime, the Tribe got one it had to have.
With Nathan Knight running out to contest, Zach Jacobs missed a 3-pointer for the tie, and W&M held on for a 78-74 win at the Convocation Center. Luke Loewe scored a career-high 27 points as W&M.
Playing for the final time in the Convocation Center, James Madison (9-18, 2-14) shot 56% in the second half to erase a 14-point lead. But Loewe put the Tribe ahead for good with a cutting layup off a Knight feed with 1:35 remaining.
JMU had three shots to either tie or take the lead in the final 57 seconds. Each missed, and W&M won its 20th regular-season game for the first time since 2009-10.
"That was a really entertaining game," Tribe coach Dane Fischer said. "Great atmosphere in here today as we anticipated it would be with it being their final home game in this building. I was really proud of our team's ability to withstand the runs that JMU kept making.
"They really got going in the second half. We kept talking about trying to keep them out of the paint and get some stops. They kept scoring, and our guys did a really nice job of answering the call on the other end. And Luke Loewe was pretty good for us on offense."
There's your lead contender for Understatement of the Week. Loewe made 10 of 11 shots from the field, 6 of 7 from the 3-point arc. He was 6-of-6, 4-of-4 from deep, for 17 points in the second half.
JMU's defensive strategy was clear and smart: Make life miserable for Knight in the post and force someone else win the game. Knight finished with 12 points, nine below his season average and his second-lowest total of the season, on 3-of-8 shooting.
"To start the game, they really packed it in the paint and they just didn't guard a couple of guys on the perimeter," Fischer said. "They really made a conscious effort to keep it out of there. One of the big things was getting Miguel (Ayesa) in the game, and he hit a 3 to stretch it out for us.
"And, obviously, Luke got going from the outside. The plan they had coming in was effective at the start for sure because Nate took eight shots and Andy (Van Vliet) took seven."
Loewe had a special game, but he didn't particularly sense it coming in warm-ups.
"You see that first one go in, and it kind of feels better as the game goes on," he said. "I just kind of got in a rhythm and felt good the whole game."
Knight scored only four points in the first half, all on free throws. Still, with Loewe having a career day, Bryce Barnes creating plays, and Ayesa bringing his jumper off the bench, the Tribe pulled away in the first half.
Loewe's 15-footer along the right baseline gave W&M a 38-24 lead with 2:22 left. But the Dukes scored the final seven points to cut the lead half at the break. JMU began the second half with a 7-0 run and tied the game on Dwight Wilson's basket with 18:23 remaining.
The Tribe answered, and Knight's basket off an Ayesa pass made it 55-46 with 13:36 left. Back came Madison, which tied the game at 67 with 5:55 remaining and took a 72-71 lead on a Jacobs 3-pointer with 2:55 remaining.
W&M regained the lead on Loewe's sixth 3-pointer, but JMU tied it on Deshon Parker's drive with 2:26 left. After both teams missed on their possessions, Loewe cut to the basket and, with Knight's assist, scored to make it 76-74.
JMU went for the lead, but Michael Christmas missed a 3 from straight on. Knight went 1-of-2 from the free throw line, giving Madison a chance to tie. Matt Lewis missed, but the rebound went out of bounds to the Dukes with 14.7 seconds left.
Jacobs was open when he took a pass in the left corner, but Knight quickly came out. His shot missed as Knight lunged at him, and Van Vliet rebounded with nine-tenths of a second left.
W&M withstood the storm.
"One thing we talk about as players is the next-play mindset," Barnes said. "There were a few times when we needed that stop … but we didn't get it. In the past, we might have broke down or let it affect us. But in our minds, we had to get it on the other end."