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Tribe men's hoops slips past Northeastern 71-70 to claim first place in CAA

Tribe men's basketball hoops
Posted at 7:36 PM, Dec 31, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-31 19:36:48-05

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (TribeAthletics.com) - Here's a sentence few expected to see: William & Mary is in sole possession of first place in the Colonial Athletic Association standings.

In another crazy finish at Kaplan Arena, the Tribe made three free throws on separate trips in the final 1.3 seconds for a 71-70 win over Northeastern Friday afternoon. It was W&M's second consecutive win — each by a point, and each in the final seconds.

Yuri Covington forced a 70-70 tie by hitting a pair of free throws with 1.3 seconds remaining. Then, following a Huskie turnover on the inbounds, Connor Kochera was fouled on a 3-point attempt with one second left.

Kochera made the first to put W&M ahead. He missed the next two, but it didn't matter as Northeastern was unable to get off a good shot.

"That was a really entertaining college basketball," Tribe coach Dane Fischer said. "It was two teams that played incredibly hard. The way the game ended was kind of funky. We were fortunate to get that last free throw at the end."

For the first time this season against a Division I opponent, the Tribe (3-12, 2-0 CAA) had five scorers in double figures. Julian Lewis led the way with a career-high 14 points along with eight rebounds, five assists and four steals. Ben Wight finished with 13 points and five rebounds.

Tyler Rice had 12 points, Covington 11 (with four steals), and Kochera 10.

W&M was missing four players who are in health and safety protocol: forwards Quinn Blair and Langdon Hatton and guards Rainers Hermanovskis and Jake Milkereit [tribeathletics.com]. Northeastern was missing three players — guard Shaquille Walters and Glen McClintock and forward Connor Braun. Each team had only 10 players available.

William & Mary led most of the first half but trailed 48-34 with 16:59 remaining in the game. The Tribe answered with a remarkable 22-0 run over the next 5 minutes and 48 seconds. Kochera's drive gave W&M its biggest lead at 56-48 with 11 minutes remaining.

"The biggest change in the game was when Yuri went in," Fischer said. "He totally changed the complexion of it with his ball pressure, getting steals, and just making it really hard to get in their offense. It really rallied our team."

Northeastern (6-7, 0-2) bounced back and regained the lead twice, the final time at 69-68 on Chris Doherty's follow with 18 seconds left. After a timeout, Lewis found his way to the rim but missed a left-handed layup. Doherty rebounded and was fouled with 4.8 seconds remaining.

Doherty made the first, extending the lead to 70-68, but missed the second. Mehkel Harvey rebounded, and as Covington pushed the ball up the floor, Northeastern's Coleman Stucke was called for a blocking foul with 1.3 seconds left.

W&M was in the double-bonus, but Covington had to wait through a Northeastern timeout. Then he knocked down both.

"The Northeastern players were talking to me — they actually said, 'He's a 65-percent free throw shooter,'" Covington said. "But I was like, it's just two free throws. I have to make two free throws. So I just focused on that."

Northeastern had 1.3 seconds to do something, but Nikola Djogo's inbounds pass sailed untouched over the scorer's table. That gave William & Mary possession from its baseline.

W&M had no timeouts, but the strategy was to get the ball to Kochera for a catch-and-shoot. Kochera took Lewis' inbound pass in the left corner and took a quick shot that hit the side of the backboard. But Djogo was called for contact, apparently by bumping Kochera in the midsection with his left shoulder.

One of three was all that was needed, and Kochera got it.

"That was pretty unique," Fischer said.

Like every team in the nation, William & Mary is dealing with the omicron variant. The Tribe was without two players in Wednesday night's 63-62 win over Hofstra and four against Northeastern. But each time, W&M handled it and got the win.

"It's pretty difficult, but coach always preaches next man up," Covington said. "If somebody goes down or somebody's out, next man up. You've got to be ready to do your job and embrace it so the team can flourish."

Fischer, who still hasn't played with everyone on his roster available this season, has seen a different mindset from his team in the past few days.

"I think our team, from the day before we played Hofstra, has had a different way about them in how they approach practice and scouting," he said. "We've been way more connected than we were earlier in the year. Sometimes it takes a while for that to happen."

After the 2-0 conference start, William & Mary is scheduled to go on the road next week starting at Elon Wednesday night. The Phoenix was scheduled to play Hofstra Friday, but that game was postponed because of health and safety protocols in Elon's program.