Perhaps sometime in the future, William & Mary will be able to cut down the nets to celebrate after winning the conference title and eagerly look forward to participating in the NCAA Tournament.
On Monday night, as usual, the Tribe watched someone else do the honors.
Northeastern captured the Colonial Athletic Association championship with a 72-61 victory over top-seeded William & Mary, which failed again to earn its first trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Quincy Ford scored 22 points and David Walker added 15 for the Huskies (23-11), who will be making their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1991.
That’s a relatively short stretch compared to that of William & Mary (20-12), one of only five of the original Division I teams that has never participated in the NCAA Tournament. The others: Army, Northwestern, St. Francis (NY) and The Citadel.
William & Mary was playing in its second straight CAA final and the fourth in eight years. The result of each of those games has been frustratingly identical.
“We’re all heartbroken right now,” coach Tony Shaver said. “We wanted to put that history stuff to rest, and we didn’t. We’ll live with that. But I do believe if we keep knocking on the door, the door’s going to open.”
Third-seeded Northeastern scored the game’s first 10 points and never trailed in winning its first CAA title. The last time the Huskies made it to the NCAA Tournament, they were champions of the North Atlantic Conference (now the America East).
Robbing William & Mary of another opportunity to reach the NCAA Tournament didn’t take any luster off the accomplishment.
“I was feeling for them last year when they had a chance,” coach Bill Coen said. “But this was just our weekend. These guys were on a mission. They weren’t going to be denied.”
Marcus Thornton scored 20 for the Tribe, who trailed by 22 points with 3:39 left before making a run that came far too late.
“I wish we had that fight for 40 minutes tonight,” Shaver lamented.
In the end, William & Mary couldn’t come up with a suitable encore for its rousing 92-91 double-overtime win over Hofstra in the semifinals — perhaps because the players were just too darn tired.
“I don’t think there’s any question that’s a factor,” Shaver said.
After falling behind 42-29 early in the second half, the Tribe held the Huskies scoreless for nearly 6 minutes while cutting the gap to seven points.
Caleb Donnelly ended the dry spell with a 3-pointer and Ford followed with a layup. After Sean Sheldon made a free throw on the other end, Walker connected from beyond the arc for Northeastern. Zach Stahl capped the 11-1 run with a three-point play to make it 53-36 with 9:07 remaining.
That silenced a crowd of 5,721 filled predominantly with William & Mary fans. Although the season ended in the same fashion as many that preceded it — no trip to the NCAAs — the Tribe will be headed to the NIT as conference champions.
Northeastern finished tied for the regular-season title but was seeded third behind William & Mary and UNC-Wilmington following the tiebreaking process.
Ford scored 15 points, making all three of his shots from beyond the arc, and the Huskies went 14 for 22 (64 percent) from the floor in taking a 36-26 halftime lead.
Northeastern raced to a 10-0 advantage on 4 for 4 shooting while the Tribe went 0 for 2 with a pair of turnovers. After William & Mary coach Tony Shaver called a timeout, and the Tribe responded with a 15-5 run to pull even.
Minutes later, however, Scott Eatherton and Ford scored all the points in a 9-0 spurt that put the Huskies up 29-20.
Ford was named Most Outstanding Player of the tournament. The other members of the All-Tournament team were Eatherton and Wakler, Thornton and teammate Omar Prewitt, and Hofstra’s Juan’ya Green.
Northeastern: The last time the Huskies made it to the NCAA Tournament, they were at No. 16 seed and lost to Dean Smith’s North Carolina team 101-66. … Northeastern improved to 1-2 against No. 1 seeds in the CAA tournament. … Lost in the shuffle of Sunday’s game was that Walker became the 34th player in school history to reach 1,000 points.
William & Mary: The Tribe now trails the series with Northeastern 10-9. The teams each won once during the regular season. … Coming off a career-high, 33-point performance Sunday in which he took 18 free throws, Prewitt was held scoreless in the first half, finished with four points on 1 for 7 shooting and went to the line just twice.
Northeastern: NCAA Tournament.
William & Mary: NIT.