BY Rob Witham
A cursory look at the box score of Randolph-Macon women’s basketball’s 84-77 loss Saturday afternoon to Emory and Henry produces a quick, glaring find, one that has been an issue in most of the Yellow Jackets’ four losses.
But the defeat which sent Randolph-Macon out of a tie for first with the tiebreaker in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) and into a tie for second with the Wasps without a tiebreaker, was a game filled with many lessons for a team while, still young, has a golden opportunity to win what is, this season, a wide open conference.
Now Randolph-Macon works to begin a new winning streak, their latest ended Saturday at seven, and also works to ramp up important momentum as the regular season draws to a close a week from Saturday and the 2018 ODAC Championships draw near.
“You just put it in the back of your mind and work hard in practice, work hard the next game,” noted sophomore Kelly Williams, who scored her 1,000th career point for the Yellow Jackets in the first period, a milestone that she wasn’t particularly interested in exploring following the game.
“We lost. You know. It’s not a big deal that I scored my thousandth point, it’s a bigger deal that we lost to Emory and Henry and now we’re tied for second instead of tied for first,” Williams said.
The Wasps, after falling quickly behind 10-2 in the game’s first two minutes, settled down and began to exploit two advantages. First, Emory and Henry goes deeper into their bench than Randolph-Macon does. The Wasps were able to physically wear down the Yellow Jackets during an early fourth period stretch that saw their lead extend to ten at 75-65 with 7:48 remaining.
After a Yellow Jacket timeout, Randolph-Macon launched one last comeback attempt, keeping the Wasps off the scoreboard for 5:11. A Charlotte Woods layup got the Yellow Jackets within three at 75-72 with 3:27 left. Woods missed a shot to cut the margin to a point, and the Wasps finally scored again on a Kara Stafford free throw with 2:37 left.
Over the next two minutes, Randolph-Macon missed their next four shots, critical missed opportunities as the Wasps began to extend their lead at the free throw line. A Jayla Wade three-pointer with 25 seconds left cut an eight-point deficit back to down to five, but it was too little, too late.
For the game, Randolph-Macon was only 24-for-45 at the free throw line. Had they made even seventy percent of their shots at the charity stripe, there, at the least, could have been overtime. But the analysis of this game goes much deeper.
Emory and Henry, even faced with a size disadvantage with Williams patrolling the middle, aggressively went into the paint, outscoring Randolph-Macon down low 48-42. The Wasps constantly looked for the cutter, the bounce pass inside to the baseline, showing no fear of a Williams/Woods combination that has, between them, produced 28 double-doubles this season.
But the real mismatch came in transition. Not only did the Yellow Jackets hurt themselves by missing free throws, those shots turned into Wasps rebounds which produced frighteningly quick passes down the court, and, in turn, easy baskets underneath.
With Williams on the court all forty minutes, point guard Kelsey Wisner in for 39, Woods for 34, it’s a recipe for trouble if your opponent can wear you down physically.
“At the beginning of the game, we have an easier time getting back in transition. But after 30, 35 minutes, you start to get a little tired. They had a lot of people they were subbing in back and forth,” Williams explained, prefacing her statement that fatigue was no excuse. The 84 points were the most given up by the Yellow Jackets this season.
Perhaps most frustrating was the fact that, for the first three periods, the game, though it didn’t feel as such, was essentially even. The score was tied seven times, the lead changed hands seven times. But when Taylor Blevins got open for a layup as time expired to end the third period to give Emory and Henry a 64-57 advantage, it seemed that the hill would be too steep to climb.
And that’s where the biggest positive coming out of the game showed itself for Randolph-Macon. While execution wasn’t consistent enough, effort never, ever waned.
“In every game this season, they’ve rallied this season, and refused to lose in a certain segment of the game, and it has paid off for us against other teams,” said Randolph-Macon head coach Carroll LaHaye. “But with Emory and Henry, they just came back and battered us again. And we didn’t capitalize on our own opportunities. I’m very proud of this team for playing as hard as they did, but I was disappointed with the way we handled the ball.”
And where the Wasps could have gained the confidence enough to grab the road win was in the second period when they utilized a full-court press that seemed, at times, to daze the Yellow Jackets. And, as is the case many times in basketball, forced turnovers can lead to unforced turnovers. No matter how they were generated, the Wasps were ready to pounce, scoring 25 points off Yellow Jacket turnovers in the victory.
It gets no easier down the stretch, as Saturday, the Yellow Jackets go to Greensboro to tangle with Guilford, who lurk in fourth just a game behind both Randolph-Macon and Emory and Henry as the week began. Then, it’s Senior Night on Tuesday when Lynchburg, the league leader, comes to Ashland bent on revenge for allowing the Yellow Jackets to pick up LaHaye’s 600th career victory on their court back on January 20th.
Four times they have tasted defeat this season, four times knowing they let victory slip away. Now it will be seen whether the youthful Yellow Jackets have grown beyond their years, can right those wrongs, and begin the final push for their first Old Dominion Athletic Conference title since 2014. Execution could equal excellence.