WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (Tribe Athletics) – “Our heart and soul.”
That’s how Justin Pierce described teammate and two-year captain Paul Rowley after William & Mary’s 71-63 Senior Day win over UNCW. While Rowley’s stat line won’t draw eyes, his impact on Saturday, and throughout the season, was as big as his smile.
When junior center Nathan Knight, who was coming off a school-record three-straight 30-point games, went to the bench after fouling out with 3:06 remaining, the Tribe turned to Rowley, and he, along with Pierce, made the big plays down the stretch to preserve the win. Rowley blocked two of UNCW’s final four shots, and Pierce scored five points to go with three rebounds and a steal over the final 1:53.
After UNCW (9-21, 5-12 CAA) closed to within one, 62-61, Pierce came off a Rowley screen and drove the right side of the lane for a lay-up. The Seahawks turned to the post and big man Devontae Cacok. Despite being out out-weighed by 40 pounds, Rowley blocked Cacok’s lay-up attempt. On the other end, Pierce canned a top-of-the-key 3-pointer with 1:08 left to cap a personal five-point spurt and give W&M all it needed for the Senior Day win.
Junior Matt Milon finished with 19 points on 7-of-12 shooting to lead W&M, while Knight added 18 in just 22 minutes of action due to foul trouble. Pierce turned in an impressive stat line with 14 points, nine rebounds, six assists and three steals. Rowley celebrated his final game in Kaplan Arena with five points, three rebounds, two steals and two blocked shots.
The Tribe shook off a slow start and used a 17-2 run to open up as much as a 13-point first-half advantage. Pierce’s cutting lay-up with 1:15 remaining in the first half extended the Green and Gold lead to 37-24.
W&M led by as much as 12, 52-40, in the final 20 minutes following five-straight Milon points. The Seahawks would not go quietly, using a 10-0 run, including back-to-back 3-pointers from Jay Estime’ and Jaylen Simms, to close to within 52-50 with 7:10 left.