VIRGINIA BEACH, Va.- Three days after facing each other in Lynchburg, the Randolph and Virginia Wesleyan men's basketball teams met in the first round of the ODAC Tournament at the Marlins' Donald M. Forsyth Court. The WildCats trailed by 10 points in the first half but rallied in the second and held off the Marlins 57-54 to advance to the semifinals in Salem, Va.
It is the first time in ODAC Tournament history a #12 seed has defeated a #5 seed. It was also just the third Randolph victory over Virginia Wesleyan in program history and the first ever win on the Marlins' home court.
"We changed a lot of what we wanted to do," said head coach Pete Hamilton afterwards, "The guys bought into it and executed. We took the mindset of we are going to do down swinging. We did a lot of things aggressively tonight. We trapped a lot and pressed a lot and threw them (Virginia Wesleyan) out of rhythm."
Brian Smith (Dumfries, Va./C.D Hylton) led all scorers with a season-best 23 points on 9-of-18 shooting. He drained five three-point shots to tie a season-high. He also pulled down six rebounds and grabbed a season-best five steals.
The Marlins got out to a 7-0 lead before the WIldCats scored their first basket of the night, a layup from Ryan Fields (Edgewood, Md./Loyola Blakefield) at the 17:12 mark. Randolph trailed 13-5 with 12:37 showing on the game clock but a 10-3 run cut its deficit to 16-15 with 7:22 left in the period.
Virginia Wesleyan pushed its lead to nine points, 24-15, thanks to an 8-0 run. A Smith trey slashed the deficit to six points at 2:43 but the Marlins tacked on four points to end the half ahead 28-18.
In the second half, Smith scored five straight points to cut the Marlin lead to 28-23. The Marlins got up 33-27 but the 'Cats would go on a 14-2 run to take its first lead of the game and go ahead 41-35 with 9:23 to play. Virginia Wesleyan got to within two points of tying at 41-39. Seven straight points by Randolph, however, increased its advantage to 48-39 at 7:30.
The WildCat lead grew to as much as 12 points, 53-41, with 5:15 remaining after a Fields layup. Randolph looked to run away with the game but the Marlins would not go down without a fight. An 8-0 Marlin run made it 53-49 with 2:30 remaining. A Fields jumper upped the WildCat lead to six points but Virginia Wesleyan cut it in half with a three with less than two minutes to play.
Randolph's lead shrunk to one point, 55-54, with 31 ticks left on the clock. Sammy Hooper (Richmond, Va./Midlothian) went to the charity stripe and missed a free throw to give the Marlins the ball. The WildCat defense stood strong as to stifled the Marlins and Nick Goble (Charlotte, N.C./Myers Park) pulled down the rebound after a missed layup. He sank two free throws to ice the game and the Marlins' final desperation heave was off the mark.
It was a tale of two halves for Randolph. After shooting just over 22% from the floor in the first half, the 'Cats shot 47.1% from the field. For the game, Randolph was 22-of-61 (36.1%) to Virginia Wesleyan's 18-of-53 (34%). Virginia Wesleyan held the rebounding advantage 44-38.
"I think we were in a good spot all along defensively," noted Hamilton. "We kept taking good shots. Brian hit big shots and Sammy hit big shots. Nick, Elijah, and Justin and their ability to finish in traffic and get offensive rebounds was a difference in the five spot for us."
Hooper added 13 points for the WildCats to go along with five rebounds. Justin Dula (Taylorsville, N.C./Alexander Central) scored eight points and grabbed eight rebounds. Fields put up six points and dished out four assists. Goble, in his first start of the season, tallied five points and five rebounds.
Randolph will play the #4 seed Emory and Henry on Friday. Game time is at 3:00 p.m. The two teams last played on January 24th in Lynchburg with the Wasps winning 85-74.