In the end, George Mason was the better team. William & Mary was one stop here, one bounce there, one made three-pointer somewhere else from extending their absurd and improbable run through the postseason. And every time, Mason made a play, grabbed a board, closed out on defense like the seasoned, talented, and disciplined team they are. Jim Larranaga’s kids deserve a ton of credit.
But so, too, do Tony Shaver’s kids. Despite being overmatched athletically and vastly inexperienced in big games in comparison with their opponents, the Tribe gave us a reason to believe. Given our alma mater’s historical, ahem, underperformance on the hardwood, that is a gift of substantial dimension, friends.
W&M closed the first half on a 16-8 run to trail by a single point, and the Mason fans sitting around us in the Richmond Coliseum cast nervous glances at each other while Tribe fans tried really hard to coordinate high-fives and fist pumps, unaccustomed as we are to such emotions. There may have been some minor muscle tears and one unfortunate unintentional elbow to the nose of a septuagenarian Tribe fan witnessing his first conference final. Alas, Folarin Campbell, Will Thomas, Dre Smith, and Chris Fleming (Chris Fleming? Really?) led the Patriots to a 9-0 run to start the second stanza and W&M never got it closer than 7 until it was way too late. While the Tribe was gritty, gutty, game and all the other clichés that surround Caucasian basketball players (the Washington Post called them stubborn this morning in the print edition – high praise, indeed), Mason deserved to win.
But as we noted in this space just yesterday, the loss does nothing to diminish the joy this unlikely group of kids brought to W&M’s generally subdued alumni. For the briefest of moments we were allowed to pretend we belonged, to plan trips to the Boise or Sacramento or Tacoma subregionals, to shout ourselves hoarse watching a game that actually mattered, and to dream. Generations of us had never even allowed ourselves to dream. When we talk about this team, that’s the thing we’ll remember – not that they finally fell short, but that they let us dream, hope, and care. And at some level, that’s the magic of college basketball, that an obscure school from a mid-major conference can make otherwise mature (it’s in the eye of the beholder, people) adults let loose the bonds of logic and rationality and really, deeply believe in the most unlikely outcomes.
So thanks to the 2007-8 William & Mary Tribe for a heretofore once in a lifetime run, and thanks to MGL at CAA: Life as a Mid-Major and Extra P at Storming the Floor for getting behind our quixotic efforts this season. One of these days, boys and girls, one of these days we’ll get to see the Tribe demolished by a 2 seed in the first round of the tourney. And G:TB can’t wait.