Jackets’ tie at the top still in tact

Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 9:40 am

The first five minutes of last Wednesday’s showdown showed the 16th-ranked Virginia Wesleyan Marlins to be quicker, stronger, better than the homestanding Randolph-Macon Yellow Jackets.

The Jackets took a breath, stepped back, reassessed, and went on the attack.

Randolph-Macon junior forward Joe Hassell goes to the glass for a stick-back against Virginia Wesleyan. He had seven points against the Marlins during the Jackets’ 78-62 ODAC win. Another key win by the Yellow Jackets over Roanoke helped maintain Randolph-Macon’s first-place tie.

Randolph-Macon junior forward Joe Hassell goes to the glass for a stick-back against Virginia Wesleyan. He had seven points against the Marlins during the Jackets’ 78-62 ODAC win. Another key win by the Yellow Jackets over Roanoke helped maintain Randolph-Macon’s first-place tie.

Powered by the aggressive play of junior forward Akeem Holmes, Randolph-Macon erased a five-point Marlins lead with a 13-4 run just past the halfway point of the first half and never looked back, pulling away in the second half for an impressive 78-62 Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) win at Crenshaw Gymnasium.

“When they had the stretch where they took a seven-point lead, we knew we had to calm down and not lose our heads,” Holmes said courtside during post-game. “We needed to take it slow, pass the ball, reverse it, and work our way back into it.”

That they did, with Holmes leading the way. The King William native kept the Jackets within striking distance as the team figured out how to answer the Marlins.

Once they did, Connor Sullivan took over. Sullivan hit a basket, then a three-pointer after a Marlins timeout, stole the ball, drew a foul and hit two free throws to give Randolph-Macon the 23-22 edge at 7:52 left before intermission. By halftime, the seven-point hole was a seven-point advantage at 38-31.

The Jackets flew out of the starting blocks in the second half, scoring five points in the first 90 seconds, holding Virginia Wesleyan to two points in the first five minutes. Andre Simon, who led the Yellow Jackets with 23 points, forced two three-point plays, hitting one of two free throws for a five-point stretch to make it a 20-point Randolph-Macon lead at 53-33. The Marlins never threatened again.

“We didn’t have a ton of adjustments to make at halftime,” Randolph-Macon head coach Nathan Davis said. “There were little things we’ve been working on that we had to reinforce. They [Virginia Wesleyan] were 5-for-8 to start the game, but Joe [Hassell] turned around and got a deflection. Then they tried to go to D.J. Woodmore and we were able to make him step back and he couldn’t get a shot off.”

It was that kind of disruption, possession after possession, that kept the Marlins (5-2 ODAC, 12-4 overall) off-kilter the rest of the way. Even when they added a full-court press midway through the second half, the Jackets broke it with ease, helping Randolph-Macon get uncontested baskets down low, an aid to their 54 percent shooting performance for the game. The Marlins shot 36 percent.

The loss dropped Virginia Wesleyan to #21 in this week’s D3Hoops.com Top 25 Division III Poll. The Yellow Jackets did not crack the Top 25, but received votes and are under consideration. They would have liked a more impressive performance Saturday in Roanoke, but victories are the goal now, not style points or rankings.

In a classic “trap game” on the schedule, the Jackets faced a Maroons squad that had been 1-4 since their 88-73 loss in Ashland Jan. 8. Coach Davis was well aware his team would get Roanoke’s best shot, and with four minutes left, the Maroons were very capable of stealing a victory.

When it mattered most, the Jackets’ defense stiffened, limiting Roanoke to just three points in those four minutes, ending the game on a 17-3 run, and making free throws down the stretch (7-of-8) to seal a 70-57 victory. With the win, the Jackets remained in a first place tie with Guilford in the ODAC at 7-1, the Quakers currently owning a head-to-head tiebreaker.

The Jackets have won nine straight dating back to their loss at #2 Cabrini just before Christmas. Simon showed senior leadership with his fourth double-double of the season with an 18-point, 14-rebound performance. Marcus Badger continued his recent run of strong play with 13 points and four assists, while sophomore Deep Run High School product Evan Jackson added 10 points off the bench.

Wednesday night, weather permitting, it’s “The Game: Round I,” as Randolph-Macon goes to Farmville to battle Hampden-Sydney who, at 4-4 in the ODAC, are desperate to win out in the regular season being three games behind the leaders. For results of this game, check the Herald-Progress on Twitter (@heraldprogress) or like our Facebook page for updated results.

The Jackets next play at Crenshaw Saturday against Guilford in the annual “Back To The Hive” basketball homecoming celebration. Tip-off is approximately 4 p.m., or just after the women’s game with Lynchburg that begins at 2 p.m.

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