Ticket punched: Northeastern ends drought at William & Mary's expense
One team was one of five original Division I members never to make the NCAA tournament. The other hadn't earned an NCAA bid since before any of its players were born.
In a CAA title game pitting two teams without much March pedigree, it was Northeastern that ended its long NCAA tournament drought.
Junior forward Quincy Ford scored 22 points to help the third-seeded Huskies roll to a 72-61 victory over top-seeded William & Mary. Sixteen straight points propelled the Tribe within six in the final minute, but Northeastern sank five of six free throws to seal the win in a game in which it never trailed.
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The victory had to be satisfying for the Northeastern juniors and seniors who were part of the 2013 team won the CAA regular season title and came so close to reaching the NCAA tournament. The Huskies lost to third-seeded James Madison 70-57 in the championship game.
Whereas Northeastern's last NCAA tournament team fell 101-66 to top-seeded North Carolina in the 1991 opening round, this year's Huskies are better equipped to put a scare into a high seed. They've defeated Florida State, Richmond and Manhattan in non-league play, certainly not juggernauts by any means but all solid opponents.
If a 21-year drought felt like an eternity for Northeastern, the Huskies shouldn't expect any sympathy from William & Mary. The Tribe joins Northwestern, St. Francis (NY), Army and the Citadel as programs that have been in Division I since the NCAA tournament's inception in 1947 but have never earned a bid.
Nine times in its star-crossed history, William & Mary has reached its conference tournament title game but failed to secure the one win that would allow it to escape that inglorious quintet. Last year, the Tribe surrendered the final seven points of the CAA title game against top-seeded Delaware and suffered a heartbreaking 75-74 loss.
What's frustrating to William & Mary coach Tony Shaver is that others perceive the standard for success and failure at William & Mary on a binary scale. One if the Tribe ends their NCAA tournament drought. Zero if they fall short yet again.
"The thing I get angry about is people trying to define whether or not you made the NCAA tournament as whether you had a good year," Shaver told Yahoo Sports after last year's loss. "If our goal is to get into the NCAA tournament, we can move into a conference that has the same academic restrictions we have. We choose to play at a higher level. I think that's admirable to be honest. We're not going to let the NCAA tournament define our team, to be honest."
William & Mary won 20 regular season games this season, shared the CAA regular season title and won a thrilling double-overtime semifinal against Hofstra with a last-second 3-pointer. The Tribe entered Monday's title game as the slight favorites but again could not finish the job.
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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter!