BALTIMORE — Marcus Thornton dribbled the ball about 30 feet from the basket on the right side as the clock waned down.
At the other end of the court, his coach, Tony Shaver, yelled, “Marcus!” Thornton replied with, “Oh no!”
And so Thornton calmly stepped up, drilled a 3-pointer over Elon University’s Austin Hamilton to give the College of William & Mary a 10-point halftime lead.
That moment — Elon coach Matt Matheny called it a “dagger shot” — encapsulated so much of the Tribe’s 72-59 conquering of the Phoenix. William & Mary was stifling on defense, never looked worried and made 11 3s in a Colonial Athletic Association Tournament quarterfinal on Saturday, March 7 at Royal Farms Arena, sending Elon home for the spring.
Elon, which beat William & Mary in January behind 12 3-pointers and sank a CAA Tournament record 13 from long range on Friday night in a victory against Towson, was instead the victim of their own crime. The Tribe always had an answer, whether it be Thornton or Omar Prewitt from beyond the arc, Prewitt on a run-out or an offensive rebound or steal from Terry Tarpey.
“I haven’t said this a lot this year, but I think our defense won us the game,” Shaver said.
William & Mary was led by Thornton’s 17 points, Prewitt’s 16 and Daniel Dixon’s 12. Tarpey scored eight points, grabbed nine rebounds and had five assists and three steals. The Tribe advances to play the winner of James Madison University and Hofstra University at 2:30 p.m. Sunday.
The Phoenix wraps its season that’s contained so many trials and tribulations with a 15-18 mark, this last loss snapping what had been a four-game winning streak and perhaps Elon’s best stretch of basketball all year. Elon graduates Hamilton, guard Kevin Blake and Ryan Winters.
“I’m really proud of how they fought,” Matheny said, “and the great leadership. It was verbal, it was by example and it was constant. The word that comes to mind is love.”
Connor Burchfield came off the bench to sink 3s on consecutive possessions to spark what became an 11-0 run early in the first half. From there, the Tribe clamped down on defense to fluster the Elon guards through a combination of a 3-2 zone and some man-to-man.
Hamilton and Elon guard Elijah Bryant couldn’t find anywhere to go against the zone, and the Phoenix went a stretch of more than nine minutes, beginning late in the first half, where it only made three 3s.
“We didn’t grind out possessions in our motion offense,” Matheny said. “The biggest thing that’s revealing in our lack of energy level was that we didn’t run a great motion offense. We didn’t screen well. We weren’t cutting hard. We didn’t get any easy things.”
Junior guard Tanner Samson hadn’t scored when he hit 3s on back-to-back possessions early in the second half to cut William & Mary’s lead to five.
But Samson picked up his fourth foul less than a minute after the latter 3, and the Tribe responded with a 15-2 run to break things open.
“I don’t think we were attacking offensively like we should have,” Hamilton said. “When they went zone, we were just passing the ball along the wing and not looking to get in gaps and face the basket.”
NOTES: … Bryant led Elon with 15 points, while Hamilton had 13. … Matheny said afterward that the leadership torch will be passed to Tony Sabato (two points) and Samson (nine points). … Bryant was held to seven points in the first half and didn’t attempt a shot in the second half for nearly 11 minutes.