Hollywood couldn’t have provided a better crafted script for Randolph-Macon’s men’s basketball Saturday in their quest to draw closer to the Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) regular season championship.
And, it was a script complete with the necessary dramatic backstory near the beginning to make all wonder if the elation of triumph would, indeed, arrive before the credits rolled.
While the second (Guilford) and third (Virginia Wesleyan) place teams in the ODAC were losing, Randolph-Macon hit the court against Emory & Henry, winless in the ODAC, 2-19 for the season. But for awhile, it was as if the Wasps were the top dog and the Jackets the bottom feeders.
Randolph-Macon came out flat, maybe some hangover effect from the loss at Eastern Mennonite the previous Tuesday that ended their 13-game winning streak. The Wasps came out with more energy, dropping back-to-back three-pointers for an 18-10 lead with 12:16 left in the first half.
Out of a timeout, the Wasps buried another trey for an 11-point margin. The Ashland faithful were stunned. But then, the aforementioned script changed from fantasy adventure to reality show.
A Connor Sullivan free throw and two baskets by leading scorer Andre Simon, one of them an emphatic dunk with 9:56 left, cut the margin to 21-15. The Wasps wouldn’t score again for 7 1/2 minutes. When they did, it cut the Randolph-Macon lead to 25-23.
“Our start was sluggish, but they played well, too, give them credit,” Simon said. “Everything returns to our defense. We picked up our intensity. Once we start getting stops, getting back to ball pressure and blocking out, it feeds us the other way.”
The Jackets went to the locker room at halftime leading 30-26, but brimming with momentum and confidence.
“Our discipline and concentration defensively picked up at about the 13-minute mark. We’d had enough,” Yellow Jackets head coach Nathan Davis said. “We’re going to start dictating what happens and when we do that, we can guard anybody.”
In the 27-plus minutes of game time following the Wasps’ third straight three-pointer to take that 21-10 lead, they mustered just 13 points. The Jackets managed 50 during the same time frame.
The senior Simon led with 18 points, Sullivan added 11 and Akeem Holmes scored 10. Ten Jackets scored, winning the rebounding war 45-28. Though it did not hurt them in this game, shooting 13-of-25 from the free throw line won’t be acceptable as every game from here on out equals higher and higher stakes.
Going into Wednesday’s sold-out Senior Night rivalry game against Hampden-Sydney, Randolph-Macon was 12-2 in ODAC play, 18-5 overall, two games ahead of both Guilford and Virginia Wesleyan in the race for the regular season title. The Jackets clinched a bye in the first round of the ODAC Tournament last week.
Now it’s about seeding and matchups once the Jackets arrive in Salem for Quarterfinal Friday Feb. 28. The drive to be the top seed and be in control of your NCAA Tournament destiny will be a big factor as to whether Randolph-Macon’s extended script this season will have a satisfying ending.
NOTES: Despite going 1-1 the previous week, D3Hoops.com’s Top 25 Division III Poll saw the Jackets move up one position from #21 to #20. Randolph-Macon has the best scoring defense in ODAC play, giving up just 63.4 points per game, while scoring an average of 77.3 points.
After Hampden-Sydney, the Jackets end their regular season Saturday night at Washington & Lee.