VIRGINIA BEACH -- There was a span of time in the closing seconds of Virginia Wesleyan College's men's basketball game on Wednesday when it seemed as though the Marlins were headed toward one of those thrilling finishes that spiced the Marlins success through the years.
Trailing 67-65 to long-time rival Randolph-Macon College with nine seconds on the clock, the Marlins' pressuring defense helped to force what could have been a fatal Yellow Jacket turnover.
The Jackets' lost the handle on the ball when it was put in play in the right corner where VWC senior Tre' Ford (Falls Church/J.E.B. Stuart) retrieved the ball and drove toward the basket. As the R-MC defense started to close in, Ford fired the ball out to the top of the key where junior DJ Woodmore (Virginia Beach/Landstown) caught it and fired a three-point shot for the potential game winner.
The shot was on line, but did not fall through and the Marlins were forced to foul to get the ball back. R-MC senior Lamar Giggetts (Fredericksburg/Courtland) hit one of two free throws with two seconds remaining to help R-MC escape the Jane P. Batten Student Center with a 68-65 Old Dominion Athletic Conference victory.
The loss dropped VWC into second place in the current league standings with a 9-2 record, trailing Hampden-Sydney College which improved to 10-1 with an 81-70 win over Lynchburg. R-MC improved to 7-4, putting the Jackets in a tie for fourth place.
R-MC's win, only its third over VWC in the last eight meetings between the schools, was its fourth in a row and 12th in its last 17 games. The Jackets are now 12-8 overall, while Virginia Wesleyan is 13-6.
The game extended an intense rivalry, which has seen neither team win by more than three points in the last seven games. Wednesday's game saw Randolph-Macon open up a seven point lead in the first half, before Virginia Wesleyan battled back to take a 21-20 lead on a Ford jumper with 4:18 remaining in the half.
A timely triple by Connor Sullivan (Charlotte, N.C./Providence Day) returned the lead to the Jackets seconds later, and R-MC relied on scores by Andre Simon (Newport News/Menchville) to stay in front...temporarily. With time running out on a possession with 27 seconds remaining, Virginia Wesleyan senior evoked a roar from the partisan crowd when he banked in a buzzer beating triple from beyond the top of the key to tie game at 29, to end first half scoring.
Virginia Wesleyan, which played all but seven minutes of the first half without Woodmore who picked up two quick fouls, benefited by his return in the second half. Woodmore scored eight points in the first seven minutes to help the Marlins open up a 49-42 lead with 13:14 remaining to be played.
After the Marlins missed several opportunities to build on the lead, R-MC started a comeback with Simon scored six points in an 11-5 run that cut the VWC lead with 54-53. The teams traded missed shots before Akeem Holmes (King William/King William) scored to give the Jackets the lead for good at 55-54 with 8:33 on the clock.
R-MC expanded its lead to 64-58 when Evan Jackson (Richmond/Deep Run) hit a jumper with 2:44 on the clock, but Virginia Wesleyan came right back. Woodmore hit a pair of jumpers and Chris Astorga (Suffolk/Virginia Beach Cape Henry Collegiate) tallied on a pair of free throws as the Marlins pulled within a 66-64 score with 20 seconds remaining.
The Marlins stayed within takeover range the rest of the way and produced the turnover it needed in the final seconds, but R-MC held on for the win.
Woodmore finished as the game's leading scorer with 19 points, hitting 7-of-15 field goal attempts. Astorga followed with 12 points, helped by a 6-of-10 effort from the free throw lines. VWC attempted 34 freebies in the game and hit 22, but missed the front end of several timely bonus situations.
The Marlins won the battle of the boards, outrebounding the Jackets 47-43, led by junior Colby Heard (Virginia Beach/Tallwood) with a season-high 11. Junior Trent Batson (Lewes, Del./Cape Henlopen) and Astorga finished with eight each.
Simon led R-MC in scoring with 15 points, followed by Giggetts with 14 and Sullivan with 12. Holmes led the Jackets on the boards with 10 rebounds, Simon added nine and Giggetts recorded eight.
While R-MC hit 46.4% from the field for the game, including 54.2% in the first half, VWC managed to score on only 29.9% of its shots.
VWC returns to competition on Saturday, Feb. 2 in the annual Hall of Fame Game at the Batten Center. The Marlins will host the Wasps of Emory & Henry College in an ODAC game beginning at 2 p.m.