LYNCHBURG, Va.- Randolph trailed by double digits late in the first half against Eastern Mennonite but outscored the Royals 35-22 in the second half to win 62-56 on Wednesday night at the RAD Center. The win ups the WildCats' overall record to 9-12 and 4-8 in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference while the Royals fall to 9-11 and 4-7 in the ODAC.
EMU jumped on Randolph in the first half as it led 5-0. The WildCats were able to cut the lead to 7-6 at 16:31. The 'Cats still trailed by one point, 12-11, with 12:07 remaining in the half. After a Justin Dula (Taylorsville, N.C./Alexander Central) layup at 8:26 made the score 20-17 in Eastern Mennonite's favor, the Royals mounted a 12-0 run to increase their advantage to 32-17 with 4:20 remaining. Randolph was able to slice the deficit to five points with a 10-0 run and went behind 34-27 at the break.
The Royals went back up by double digits, 38-27, at 16:51. A 14-6 WildCat run got the home team to within a three point shot of tying, 44-41, with less than 13 minutes to play. A Sammy Hooper (Richmond, Va./Midlothian) three at 11:41 got the WildCats to within two points. Randolph took its first lead of the night on an Elijah Ford (Chantilly, Va./Chantilly) layup with 8:36 remaining, 50-49.
EMU got the lead back to go ahead by three but the WildCats evened the score on a Jerry Goodman (Suffolk, Va./Portsmouth Christian School) trey with 5:20 remaining. While the score remained that way for nearly two minutes of game time, Goodman's basket was part of a 9-0 WildCat run that gave Randolph a 59-53 advantage with 38 ticks left. EMU was able to cut it to three with 26 seconds left but free throws from Hooper and Dula would secure the win for the WildCats. Key to Randolph's late surge was holding Eastern Mennonite without a field goal for 7:04 of game time.
"Extremely proud of our group – that was a big W for a lot of reasons," said head coach Pete Hamilton afterwards. "Very different game than on Saturday but the guys just refused to give in. We certainly didn't have it going from the jump but our defensive effort carried us until Brian and Sammy could run some big buckets off in the second half. Those two guys are leaders on our team and they showed a lot of confidence tonight when we were searching for answers offensively."
While the WildCats edged out the Royals in overall shooting percentage (37.9%-35.2), the 'Cats were 11-of-26 (42.3%) from the floor in the second half compared to 6-of-25 (24%) for Eastern Mennonite. Another key stat was free throw percentage which Randolph was 12-of-17 (70.6%) to EMU's 13-of-25 (52%).
The WildCats forced 17 Royal turnovers that they turned into 20 points. Randolph also led in the paint 28-26. The 'Cats seven blocked shots was a season-high.
Hooper led the 'Cats with 22 points 17 of those coming in the second half. Brian Smith (Dumfries, Va./C.D. Hylton) added 15 points, four assists, three rebounds, and three steals. Ford secured a team-high eight rebounds to go with seven points and two blocked shots. Dula put up nine points, six rebounds, three assists, and three blocks.
"We've been missing our big senior all season," Hamilton stated. "Nick gave us extremely valuable minutes tonight – his toughness and physicality doesn't always find ways to show up in the box score but he pushed and fought one of the best big men in our conference tonight for 10 minutes and Avery Payne came in to do it on multiple possessions as well. Those two guys giving us that physicality allowed Justin and Elijah to be more effective down the stretch."
Randolph is idle this weekend and returns to the court next Wednesday February 6 when it travels to Emory and Henry. Game time will be at 7:30 p.m.
"We've talked over the past few days that all teams want their arrow to be pointing up at this time of year," said Hamilton. "We've gained ground and improved over the past week but we need our arrow to continue to point up as we head down the stretch. The bye weekend will be a little better with a W to sit on but I hope it just creates more hunger for us collectively to continue our climb."