The free throws did not fall. The rebounds were still not up to expectations. The senior point guard was limited to just 18 minutes due to foul trouble. But, championship teams must overcome these types of adversity in order to seize the prize, win the day.
In the end, Randolph-Macon found ways to keep a pesky St. John Fisher Cardinals squad at bay, winning 64-57 to capture their 25th consecutive victory and advance to the NCAA Division III Round of Eight tomorrow against familiar Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) rival Virginia Wesleyan.
"We knew coming in this would be a tough game. They are well-coached, they defend," said Randolph-Macon head coach Nathan Davis, who improves to 9-5 in six seasons in the NCAA Tournament. "We were fortunate enough to make a few plays to get a lead, and do things to hang on down the stretch."
The Yellow Jackets never trailed, and were only tied once, at 9-9 with 14:12 left in the first half. But like the Thanksgiving family guest that doesn't leave, the Cardinals, champions of the Empire Eight conference and owners of an 18-game winning streak of their own this season, wouldn't go away. Tyler Hart, one of five Cardinals to average in double figures, exceeded his point average with eleven in the first half to help Fisher stay within five points, cutting the lead to three at intermission at 29-26.
Joe Hassell continued his strong postseason in the paint with a double-double, 21 points and ten rebounds. The points were distributed evenly with ten in the first, eleven in the second half, as he drew and his teammates drew foul after foul against a bigger, stronger Cardinals squad.
The issue, though, was the Yellow Jackets didn't connect at the line. Shooting just 56 percent (14 for 25), the door was kept open for Fisher throughout most of the second half. The Cardinals went on a 5-0 run in 74 seconds to cut the lead to three again at 55-52 with 2:54 to go. The usual under four minute media timeout hadn't happened. Davis was still comfortable.
"This time of year, you've got to make shots, but you've got to make the right play," Davis explained. "I didn't want to call time, then end up with another timeout. Our guys knew what to do, got Akeem (Holmes) the ball, he was able to take it to the rim and make a shot."
The basket from Holmes, who only had four points, was the backbreaker. Randolph-Macon countered with a 6-0 run of their own sparked by Holmes' basket at 2:21 left, ended with authority a Lamont Moore ended a fastbreak down the baseline with a dunk. It was 61-52 with 47 seconds left.
In addition to Hassell's 21 points, Badger and Chris Hamilton each had ten points, while Lamont Moore and Mike Silverthorn had five each.
So, despite 41 percent shooting, struggling at the line, and their point guard sitting more minutes than playing, the Yellow Jackets advance to the Round of Eight, where they face the Marlins, who eliminated Dickinson College 75-65 Friday afternoon at Crenshaw.
No public tickets are available for the Saturday night game. Tip-off is at 7pm. Randolph-Macon last made the NCAA Division III Final Four in Davis' first season: 2009-10. They have a chance to return to Salem in less than 24 hours.
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