- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 10, 2015

BALTIMORE — History had once again eluded Tony Shaver when he arrived at his postgame press conference Monday night. The heartbreak was still fresh.

With a 72-61 loss to Northeastern at Royal Farms Arena, Shaver and the William & Mary men’s basketball team fell in the CAA title game for the second consecutive year. In the past eight seasons, the Tribe has reached the championship game four times, and lost all of them. Since 1958, it has reached nine conference championship games in three different conferences — and lost all of them.

This was supposed to be the year to change that trend.

“We wanted to put that dad-blame history stuff to rest, and we didn’t. We didn’t. And we’ll live with that,” Shaver said. “But I do believe if we keep knocking on the door, the door’s going to open.”

William & Mary is one of five original Division I programs that has never made the NCAA tournament, an ignominious group that also includes Army, The Citadel, Northwestern and St. Francis Brooklyn.



The repeated feeling of heartbreak, to get so close only to fall short, is enough to drive any coach crazy. Yet as Shaver addressed reporters Monday night, he was more proud than disappointed.

The Tribe’s performance against the Huskies was “out of character,” he said, but it doesn’t take away from an otherwise sterling season. William & Mary won its third regular-season conference title and completed back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in 31 years.

“There’s a lot of really good teams that don’t make the NCAA tournament, so you don’t measure yourself on whether you make it or you don’t,” said assistant coach Austin Shaver, Tony’s son. “Once you get here and you’re this close, it’s a crushing blow. You can’t soften that. That’s the goal. You want to win it. But when you get a little farther removed from the day, you can kind of appreciate the season as a whole.”

In last year’s championship game, the Tribe led Delaware by six points with 82 seconds left and lost. On Monday, it was plagued by a mixture of sloppy defense and simple bad luck.

Northeastern’s Quincy Ford, a 39 percent shooter, hit eight of 10 shots and finished with 22 points. Caleb Donnelly, a senior walk-on who played only eight minutes per game this season, scored 13 points. There were stretches in which it seemed like the Huskies just couldn’t miss, and even a 16-0 run in the closing minutes couldn’t bring the Tribe back.

“We didn’t cut as hard as we usually do. We just weren’t executing as well as we need to,” senior Marcus Thornton said. “Credit to them, they played good defense, but I’m not sure we did all we needed to do on the offensive end for us to be successful and what we think makes us a good team.”

From the outside looking in, it is easy to see William & Mary as a snakebitten program. To regularly be on the cusp of the NCAA tournament and regularly fall short is a unique phenomenon. Yet within the program, the championship game losses are not viewed as unlucky. Each defeat offers a lesson.

“We learn every time we come here,” Tony Shaver said. “I think the first couple times we got to this point, we were a Cinderella team. Getting there was a great accomplishment. I think last year, and this year, we felt we had a chance to win both of ‘em. We really did, quite honestly. We talked before this game that the most important thing to do tonight is to execute, and we didn’t execute. So as a team, we’ve got to learn that.”

After Monday’s loss, Shaver and his players tried to look back on a successful season and simultaneously look ahead to the National Invitation Tournament. Their season will continue, though at the time, that fact offered little consolation.

“We’re crushed,” Shaver said. “We’re crushed in that locker room right now.”

That feeling still lingered as William & Mary guard Daniel Dixon left the locker room long after the game had ended. He rounded the corner in a narrow hallway, heading for an exit, as Northeastern’s players were concluding a lengthy on-court celebration. They walked toward Dixon, and their own locker room, all of them wearing a CAA championship T-shirt and a smile. One player carried the trophy.

In that moment, Dixon could have turned or stared at the ground, ignoring the Huskies and the sting of another missed opportunity. Instead, he stuck out a hand, offering high-fives and fist bumps as Northeastern’s player walked by, a final gesture of sportsmanship on another heartbreaking night.

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