An electric crowd filled the William M. Anderson Center last Saturday night in preparation for the men’s basketball team’s Capital Athletic Conference championship game. Yet in the end, the newfound ‘Eagle Nation’ was struck silent and the University of Mary Washington sidelines left subdued as York College escaped the hostile environment with a 59-51 victory.
The Eagles got off to a strong start in head coach Rod Wood’s return to the sidelines, as UMW jumped out to a 20-12 lead in the middle of the first half. Freshman Sean Armstrong was key to the Eagles’ early success, stroking a pair of 3-pointers to get the Mary Washington offense on track and providing vicious blocks on the defensive end.
The Spartans made a charge to close the half to trim the Eagles halftime lead to 30-26, but UMW still shot over 50 percent from the field in the first 20 minutes of action.
“When we went on the road to York we fell into a big hole to start the game, so I think we came out trying to make sure that we set the tone from the beginning,” senior Tad Dickman said. “We knew they were going to play physical and we just needed to match that and bring our own intensity. And when you have a crowd like [we did Saturday night] I think it’s easy after you make a couple shots to get going.”
The second half didn’t go as smoothly for Mary Washington. The York defense stiffened to force 11 UMW turnovers while also holding the Eagles to just 23 percent shooting (including just 2-11 on 3-pointers) after intermission. The start of the second half was particularly precarious for UMW, as they scored just two points in the first six and a half minutes after halftime. Going back to the first half, the Eagles scored just four points in more than 11 consecutive minutes of game action. The offensive struggles left Wood to watch helplessly as his team’s lead disappeared.
“I think we forced action a lot,” Wood said of his offense in the second half. “We’re pretty much a perimeter-only team and they knew that we were good there so they ran at us and put hands on us quite a bit. You have to fight through that and knock down some shots or pull down some offensive rebounds, but we just weren’t able to do that.”
Mary Washington found their footing in the middle of the second half, capped at the 6:26 mark when Dickman drained a deep 3-pointer to cut the Spartans lead to 44-43. But York closed the game on a 15-8 run and connected on their late free throws to secure their second ever conference tournament title.
“We tried to make a conscientious effort that we were going to get the ball across half court and if we had the fast break, take it, but if we get to the secondary and it’s not there then set up some sets and run through stuff to see if could get easy buckets,” Dickman said. “But I think we came out in the second half and we lost that a little bit. We tried to push it at times where we didn’t need to and we took shots that we could have waited on.”
Wood said he shifted around his starting lineup and his rotation to try and catch York off guard. The Eagles’ head coach also said that he implimented some new twists to their offense the day before the game to give the Spartans some different looks that they wouldn’t expect. After finding success with those tweaks early, Wood thought they faltered in the second half.
Dickman stuffed the stat sheet for UMW, scoring a team-high 15 points, pulling down six rebounds and recording three blocks and two steals in his last game in an Eagle uniform. Armstrong was another key contributor to the Eagles, chipping in with 12 points, seven rebounds and four blocks, though foul trouble limited his effectiveness in the second half.
York’s Paul Kouvaris, later named CAC Player of the Year, gave Mary Washington fits inside with his array of post moves to lead the Spartans with 16 points and eight rebounds.