WILLIAMSBURG — William and Mary fans, stop us if you've heard this before — the Tribe executes brilliantly and builds a big lead, only to see it disintegrate amid a flurry of turnovers and missed defensive assignments on the way to a frustrating loss.
Well, it happened again Saturday night at Kaplan Arena, as James Madison overcame a 19-point first-half deficit and snuck past the Tribe 69-67 in the teams' regular-season finale.
"This has been the case on a number of occasions this year," Tribe coach Tony Shaver said. "We just couldn't find a way to finish."
With a victory, the Tribe, which was locked in as the sixth seed in next week's CAA tournament, would have opened against George Mason in the quarterfinals. Instead, W&M's first tournament game — Saturday at 8:30 p.m. at the Richmond Coliseum — will be a rematch with the Dukes, something Shaver would have preferred to avoid.
"I'd much rather have played somebody different," Shaver said. "Not because of matchups or anything like that, just a personal preference. But we didn't do our part."
The Tribe certainly did in the first half, when it shot a ridiculous 76 percent from the field and used a 20-2 run to surge ahead 47-31 at the break. Marcus Thornton led the way with 19 first-half points, including a couple of heat-check 3-pointers.
Thornton managed just four shots and one point in the final 20 minutes, though, as the Dukes went to a smaller lineup and began locking down defensively. The Tribe coughed up 13 second-half turnovers.
"We took it personally," JMU's Andre Nation said of the challenge of slowing down Thornton. "He had 20 in the first half. So yeah, it was personal."
Meanwhile, senior A.J. Davis, who scored 17 straight JMU points in the first half, continued torching the Tribe inside and out en route to a career-high 36 points.
The Dukes finally pulled even at 65 when Nation went down the baseline and flushed down a dunk with 1:30 remaining. Tim Rusthoven got the Tribe even again with a putback, but Devon Moore nailed two free throws with 19 seconds left for the winning margin after enduring knee pain as he fell while drawing a foul.
Thornton tried to win it with a 3-pointer in the final seconds, but it clanged off the rim.
The Tribe scored just 20 second-half points. Yet Shaver said it was the inability to make plays defensively — along with the turnovers — that continue to hamstring his team as winnable games get away.
"That's the most disappointing part," Rusthoven said. "I really thought this would be the night we would step up and make those stops."
At least W&M will get another crack at the Dukes. And Shaver expressed confidence that in this year's seemingly wide-open CAA tournament, anything is possible.
"A lot of exciting things can still happen for us," he said.
JMU 69, W&M 67
JAMES MADISON (17-14, 11-7): Cr.Cooke 0-7 0-0 0, De.Moore 2-7 4-4 8, Diouf 1-2 1-1 3, R.Curry 4-8 0-0 10, R.Goins 0-4 2-2 2, AJ.Davis 15-23 1-2 36, Bessick 1-2 0-0 2, E.Hood 0-0 0-0 0, Nation 2-5 3-4 8. Totals 25-58 11-13 69.
WILLIAM AND MARY (13-16, 7-11): Goodloe 0-1 0-0 0, Howard II 1-1 0-0 2, M.Thornton 7-12 1-2 20, Pavloff 0-0 0-0 0, Rum 4-6 0-0 9, Boatner 0-1 0-0 0, Britt 3-6 2-2 9, Gaillard 1-4 0-0 2, Heldring 1-1 0-0 2, Rusthoven 10-13 0-4 20, Schalk 0-0 0-0 0, Tarpey 1-2 1-2 3. Totals 28-47 4-10 67.