By ROB WITHAM
“Our five big guys are a family. I love to see them doing great, they love to see me doing great.”
The words of Randolph-Macon basketball senior Daniel Noe, who started 23 of 26 games last season, but now finds himself coming off the bench and providing the second of the one-two punch combination of toughness, then scoring, that has helped the Yellow Jackets build early leads during their five-game winning streak, including Saturday in their 88-72 Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) win over Lynchburg at Crenshaw Gymnasium.
The recent starting five of Korey Turner, Buzz Anthony, Grayson Midulla, Jon Nowell and Montese Adams has been a winning combination. Nowell and Adams have produced pressure inside defense, and, in the case of Adams in the Yellow Jackets’ ODAC opening win at Roanoke, scoring, as he went for 18 points against the Maroons.
Adams opened the scoring against the Hornets, then, a minute later, he blocked a shot, grabbed the rebound, and went in for a layup for a 4-2 lead. One rebound later, Adams turned it over to Noe, who went to work both inside and out of the offensive end of the floor, scoring eight points, including nailing a pair of three-pointers, to give Randolph-Macon a 12-10 lead.
Noe would return midway through the first half, hitting a layup for the first double digit lead for Randolph-Macon at 25-14. After a Connor Schroeder three-pointer for Lynchburg, Luke Neeley answered with a trey of his own. Neeley next assisted Noe for two points, prompting a Lynchburg timeout as the Yellow Jackets upped their lead to 30-17.
The key to the Yellow Jackets offense, which loves to pound the ball inside, but can also use that ability to kick out for the open jumper, is how well the defense plays, fueling the transition game. That defense did its job best as Randolph-Macon was seen building its advantage.
“We just know when we focus in, our defense is going to take over, and when our defense takes over, that’s when we’re dangerous,” Noe explained.
The Yellow Jackets led by as many as eighteen before Lynchburg finished the half on a 13-5 run to cut the margin to ten at 42-32 at the break. Adams and Midulla combined for the first nine Yellow Jacket points of the second half as Randolph-Macon built the lead back to fifteen at 51-36.
The lead ballooned to eighteen again, then got shaved again when a Reggie Davis layup cut the lead down to seven at 58-51 with 9:35 left. The Yellow Jackets turned on the afterburners to score 30 points down the stretch as eleven total players scored for Randolph-Macon. After Noe’s 19, Midulla added eleven, Adams ten, while Luke Neeley scored nine and David Funderburg contributed eight.
“We’ve got some momentum, and we need to continue to just keep getting better,” Randolph-Macon head coach Josh Merkel noted. “I love this group. They’re playing for each other, especially the energy there on the bench.”
That energy will be essential to the success of this talented group. When Nowell, and later, Anthony each connected on traditional three-point plays in the final two and a half minutes, the teammates on the floor were quick to chest bump one another, the teammates on the bench jumping in the air offering vocal praise.
It is the type of energy that allows a senior leader like Noe to willingly accept a position not in the starting five that other seniors might reject. It’s also the type of sacrifice that makes winners. Noe gives credit to Adams, Nowell, and others for pushing him so hard in practice that he’s ready for any intensity level that other ODAC opponents can bring.
The Yellow Jackets go into the holidays 2-0 in conference play and return to ODAC play with a home game against Shenandoah January 3rd. But there are five games on the docket for the rest of December, beginning with two contests at the Juniata Invitational in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania Friday and Saturday, followed by a trip to the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg on Sunday December 17th.
If Randolph-Macon can return to Crenshaw in ten days with still just one loss, they’ll be in great position to post another special season.