A little over five years ago, something happened in a William & Mary basketball game that made me literally jump out of my seat with wonder and surprise. Marcus Thornton's audacious drive and dunk attempt signalled a new era in Tribe hoops history - unto us that day a (near) savior was born.
Marcus is two years gone now, learning his trade as an offensively talented but still raw professional point guard. He's averaging 11.3 points and 1.6 assists (with 1.9 turnovers/game) for Consultinvest Pesaro in Italy's top league. But just his week, something else happened in a William & Mary game that made me sit up and take notice, if not exactly jump.
Early in the second half of the Tribe's eventual (and brutal) road loss to Towson, freshman center Nathan Knight grabbed three boards (two offensive), scored a basket, made two free throws, and ran the floor to make an acrobatic block on Tigers veteran forward John Davis. Knight's efforts helped the Tribe extend their lead to 15, and though they ultimately blew that lead, it was a bit of a coming out party for the exuberant 6'10", 250-pound newcomer.
Knight scored a career-high 15 points in 19 minutes against Towson, making 4 of 6 from the field and 7 of 8 from the line, adding 5 rebounds and 5 blocks in his best collegiate performance. He tied that career-best scoring mark yesterday against Charleston, going 5-7 from the floor and making all 5 of his free throws to go along with 6 boards in a tidy 19 minutes. In his last four games, the Syracuse native is averaging 12.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 2 blocks, despite never playing more than 19 minutes in any of those games.
The big lefty served notice of his talent early in the season when he dropped 14 on Louisville despite missing 7 of 9 free throws. He took 12 shots in that game, refusing to back down against the Cards' big, athletic frontcourt. After his recent upswing, he averages 7.9 points and 4.4 boards per game, making 54.0% of his shots, and leads the CAA in blocks/game, averaging 1.5. His 37 blocks are already the 8th best single-season tally in school history. All of this in an average of only 17 minutes.
After yesterday's win over Charleston in Williamsburg (where W&M has yet to lose this season), the Tribe are 14-10, 8-6 in the CAA. They're tied for fourth in the league with Elon, and appear assured of a top six finish, which is all that matters at this point. The league's six best teams avoid Pillow Fight Friday, where the 7-10 seeds square off to see who advances to the CAA Tournament quarterfinals. Just like every year in the past decade or so, W&M has enough talent to win the title. And just like each of those years, they're one inexplicable hairball puke away from losing to someone with inferior talent.
But whatever happens this year, Nathan Knight's big smile and bigger game portends good things for the next three seasons.