Not by choice, the top ranked team in America in Division III, Randolph-Macon College men's basketball, had to become road warriors in the 2021 Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) Championship Tournament.
Due to a COVID-19 pause and several game cancellations in February, the Yellow Jackets, though unbeaten, were awarded the fifth seed in the tournament. After a win in the quarterfinal round at #4 Bridgewater, a team they defeated twice during the regular season, it was onto top-seeded Roanoke Tuesday night.
The Maroons, one of the best defensive teams in the nation, gave Randolph-Macon fits a year ago in the semifinal round before a late defensive stop gave the Yellow Jackets the victory. From the start, Roanoke seemed determined to deny the Yellow Jackets their patented three-point shooting game.
Thus, it was time for head coach Josh Merkel, floor general Buzz Anthony, and the rest of the team to pivot, and take advantage of the opportunity given. Merkel wants his team to figure out what's happening first, staying a step mentally ahead of the opponent.
The result Tuesday night was forty points in the paint as the Yellow Jackets held off a furious late Roanoke rally to eliminate the top seed 77-71 to advance to Thursday night's title game.
Randolph-Macon (5-0 ODAC, 10-0) advances to their third consecutive championship game, and look to defend their title and go back to back for the first time in thirty years.
"Gratitude. We're happy to play another game," Merkel noted via Zoom following the game, mindful of the early February pause in his team's season. "We're not perfect. We've got a lot to work on."
The Yellow Jackets led most of the way, but Roanoke tied the game at 47 in the middle of the second half. Randolph-Macon responded with a quick 6-0 run to retake the lead for good. Up 70-57 with less than two minutes left, the Maroons cut the margin down to five during a frantic final minute which saw the Yellow Jackets struggle to get the ball inbounds.
Anthony scored twenty points and dished nine assists for the Yellow Jackets, while Miles Mallory had 18 points and seven rebounds and Ian Robertson added fifteen points and seven rebounds. Before fouling out, sophomore Josh Talbert went five-of-six from the field, finishing with eleven points and five rebounds.