WILMINGTON, North Carolina – Sophomore forward Justin Pierce poured in 16 of his 23 points in the second half, including 10 straight during a pivotal stretch, to vault William & Mary into a tie for first place in the Colonial Athletic Association with an 84-81 trimming of UNCW in men’s basketball action on Saturday night at Trask Coliseum.
The Tribe pushed its record to 14-7 and league mark to 7-3 by beating the Seahawks in the first of two regular season matchups. The Seahawks had their two-game winning streak halted and own a 7-15 and 4-6 record.
Tony Shaver’s club climbed into a three-way tie for the top spot in the CAA with Northeastern and Charleston. The Seahawks are tied for seventh place with Delaware.
“It was another close one tonight,” said C.B. McGrath, UNCW’s first-year head coach. UNCW’s last six games have been decided by four or less points. “I was proud of our guys’ effort. We were making plays until the very end. They just made one more play that we did.
“They made the shots. It’s hard to play against them when they have so many shooters on the court. You make one mistake on defense and it might be three points. They lead the nation in three-point field goal percentage for a reason.”
Pierce and senior guard Connor Burchfield, the nation’s top three-pointer shooter, paced four Tribe players in double figures with 23 points apiece. Senior guard David Cohn chipped in 13 points and nine assists and sophomore forward Nathan Knight had 11.
Senior point guard Jordan Talley poured in a career-high 25 points for the Seahawks, who shot 43.5 percent on the night. Sophomore guard Jaylen Fornes contributed 15 points, junior forward Devontae Cacok collected 12 points and 15 rebounds, and senior forward Marcus Bryan finished with 10 points.
Cacok, the nation’s leading rebounder who also ranks third in double-doubles, notched his 16thdouble-double of the season and 29th of his career with another all-around performance.
The Tribe, which shot 55.8 percent, sprinted out to a 40-31 advantage at halftime and countered several UNCW runs to snap a two-game losing streak to the Seahawks in Wilmington.
The streaking Seahawks got going early in the second half and climbed back into the contest with a surge in the opening four minutes of the final period. Trailing, 45-40 after a driving layup by Knight, the Seahawks pulled even when Ty Taylor sank a three-pointer – his only basket of the game – and Fornes converted a layup in the paint to even the score at 45-all with 15:11 on the clock.
But the resilient Tribe answered with a string of seven straight points, capped by Cohn’s steal and subsequent layup with 13:48 to go that gave W&M a 52-45 edge.
UNCW closed the gap to one point with a 5-0 mini-run around the six-minute mark, but Pierce reeled off 10 consecutive points to keep the Seahawks at bay.
After a rare four-point play by Fornes with 1:53 remaining sliced the lead to 78-77, Burchfield responded with his fifth triple and added both ends of a bonus situation to give the Tribe the breathing room it needed.
In the end, a miss by Cohn at the free throw line with 11 seconds left gave the Seahawks an opportunity to send the game into overtime, but Talley’s long heave bounced off the rim.
The two clubs came out firing in the early going, combining to make their first four shots and putting together early runs. Burchfield was hot early and sank back-to-back triples to give the Tribe a 10-6 edge at 17:13 before the Seahawks answered with six straight points over a 1:20 stretch to grab a 12-10 lead.
Burchfield stayed hot and drained back-to-back three’s again as W&M regained the advantage, 18-12, with 13:34 left in the opening half. Burchfield canned four of his first five three-point attempts behind the arc.
The Tribe wound up taking a 40-31 advantage into the break after connecting on 55.2 percent in the first period. Burchfield did most of the damage, scoring 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting – all from long distance.
The Seahawks next kick off a three-game road swing by traveling to the Northeast to take on Hofstra (Feb. 1) and Northeastern (Feb. 3). UNCW then plays at James Madison on Feb. 9 before returning to Trask Coliseum for Homecoming on Feb. 10 vs. Hofstra.
William & Mary begins a two-game home stand on Thursday at Kaplan Arena against Elon in a 7 p.m. start.
GAME NOTES: The Seahawks are 6-4 at home this season…UNCW owns a 43-28 advantage in the longtime series with the Tribe…UNCW has won four of the last six games against the Tribe…Cohn became W&M’s career assist leader with nine helpers…Junior guard Paul Rowley came off the bench and went 3-for-3 from deep…The Tribe went 10-for-25 from long distance and the Seahawks closed with a 12-for-29 aim…UNCW outrebounded W&M, 38-29…The Seahawks had 13 more offensive rebounds than the Tribe…Devontae Cacok played a game-high 37 minutes…W&W led for 35:41 of the contest…The teams play again on Feb. 22 at Kaplan Arena in Williamsburg…The game wrapped up Coaches Vs. Cancer week for the men’s hoops staff.