It’s been a fruitful four years at Randolph-Macon College for Hanover High product Dylan Cole and Fredericksburg native Lamar Giggetts.
As freshmen, they made the trip to the NCAA Division III Final Four. They’ve been part of 87 wins and an ODAC Tournament title two years ago. As they were introduced at Crenshaw Gymnasium Saturday one final time, there was much work to be done. A victory over Randolph would secure a first round bye for the Yellow Jackets into the 2013 ODAC Tournament. With a loss, they would have to host a play-in game on Tuesday.
After falling to the WildCats Jan. 5 66-65, the Jackets had learned their lesson. Playing to their strengths while looking to be aggressive inside, Randolph-Macon shot 52 percent in the second half, holding Randolph to 23 percent, pulling away from the WildCats to win 70-52 to finish the ODAC campaign tied for third with Randolph. Through conference tiebreaker rules, the Jackets were awarded the third seed in the ODAC Tournament.
“Every game is important, but obviously you want to have a bye, you don’t want to have to play an extra game to get [Salem],” Randolph-Macon head coach Nathan Davis said. “In a league like ours, finishing in the top three is pretty good.”
The game began with each team on runs to take the lead before the Jackets used a 9-0 spurt in 3.5 minutes to seize advantage 21-17 with 6:01 left in the half. Six of Lamar Giggetts’ nine points came in the opening stanza, as did six of Dylan Cole’s game-high 11 rebounds. Cole, leading scorer Andre Simon (13 points), Marcus Badger and Joe Hassell all hit baskets down the stretch to extend the Jackets lead to 31-24 at halftime.
In a four-minute stretch near the start of the second half, the Jackets compiled another 7-0 run, which ended on a Chris Battaglia free throw. By then, Randolph-Macon led 48-33 with 11:37 left. The Jacket defense remained stingy, allowing the offense to build on the lead, which was as high as 22 points, before ending with the 18-point win.
Fifty-seven of the Jackets’ 60 field goal attempts were inside the three-point arc. That’s by design. Nine different players scored and 11 had rebounds. This depth and experience, plus a brutal regular season schedule, will serve Randolph-Macon very well in the post-season.
“Checking strength of schedule, we played the third or fourth toughest schedule in Division III in the nation this year and are the only one of the five with a winning record. Our team went 11-5 in conference, the same record we had in conference the year we went to the Final Four. Our guys are doing something right,” Davis noted.
The biggest feather in the Jackets’ defensive cap was holding the ODAC’s leading scorer, Randolph’s Colton Hunt, to six total points on 3-of-11 shooting. Hunt came in averaging nearly 25 points per game.
Randolph-Macon next plays in the ODAC Tournament Quarterfinals where they will battle sixth seed Guilford. The Quakers qualified by defeating Emory & Henry Tuesday night, 70-60. In their lone meeting way back on Dec. 1, Guilford, on the power of four players in double-figures, overcame a halftime deficit to beat the Jackets, 65-55.
As for beyond the ODAC? There’s no doubt in Davis’ mind that if the Jackets, and their two star seniors, want another taste of March Madness, and the NCAA Division III Tournament, there’s only one goal to accomplish.
“There are seven or eight teams that could win this thing next week,” Davis noted. “There’s no question about it. We have to win three games to get in.”
Though a competitive league, the ODAC is not the strongest conference in Division III basketball, so the Jackets head for the mountains laser focused on one goal: a three-win weekend for an ODAC Championship, and one more trip to the Big Dance for a young Jackets team, led by its two seniors, Giggetts and Cole.