ODACcess: N.C. Home Cookin’ (Emory and Henry @ Guilford)

GREENSBORO, N.C. – Unlike the archetypal sporting road trip, the 30 ballpark whirlwind tour, our project has a slightly smaller geographic scale. As such, the trek down from our Charlottesville homebase to Guilford (the sole ODAC school not within the namesake Old Dominion) was something of an event: carefully planned to fall during a lull in our academic schedules, and treated as more of an adventure than some of our other trips. For us this meant sampling the local cuisine in the form of a randomly-chosen barbecue joint; we ended up at Country Barbecue, about four miles south of the Guilford campus. Of course, in the land of barbecue, it’s hard to go wrong, and our meals were expectedly delicious. (We would later learn about Greensboro’s marquee BBQ establishment–Stamey’s Barbecue–from Guilford’s Sports Information Director, Dave Walters, who described it as “a legend.” Expect us next time, Stamey’s.) But the food is just one of the reasons to consider a return to Guilford. More importantly, Coach Tom Palombo has put together an exciting basketball team with the chance to compete in the ODAC for years to come.

Like many of its fellow ODAC members, Guilford has a strong basketball history, but unlike the others, not in the NCAA. The Quakers’ NAIA pedigree is notable for its famous names (does World B. Free ring a bell?) and winning ways, including a 1973 National Championship (a team which included future pros Free, M.L. Carr and Greg Jackson).

World B. Free, Guilford Quaker, future NBA star

GC’s foray into the NCAA didn’t start as successfully when it made the transition in 1991. But in the last 11 years, since luring Palombo away from Defiance College, the Quakers have won two ODAC titles and made two Final Four appearances up the road in Salem. This year seems to be more of the same from Guilford, who have taken advantage of the missteps of their more heralded brethren to take first place in the ODAC early in the conference schedule. If they continue to play like they did against Emory and Henry, they’ll have a great chance at a third.

The Quakers got out to an early lead in front of a small, but boisterous crowd. Highlighted by two treys from Matt McCarthy, Guilford set the tone for the rest of the game. McCarthy also created an easy layup with an alert interception. The E&H offense seemed befuddled and lackadaisical, letting easy passes through their legs and allowing rebounds to bounce around wildly until they found their way into Quaker hands. Their outside looks, although mostly left undefended, failed to fall during this early run, allowing to Quakers to jump out to a 12-2 lead they would never surrender.

Yet, it seemed shortly that the Wasps would keep this competitive. The open looks from three they found started to fall, and guards Drew Henry and Ryan Gravely converted three of them in as many possessions. They failed to produce stops on the other end, but still managed to narrow the margin to 6.

But the hot streak was not to last; the Wasps went cold and got colder as the half drew on. They attempted 11 more threes in the 13 minutes before halftime, and made exactly none of them. It began to appear as though Coach Palombo’s game plan was to force the Wasps to take long shots, knowing that their best deep-ballers, Malcolm Green and Stephen Brown, shot only 30% from range. If that was the game plan it was effective: buoyed by excellent shooting from deep, the Quakers extended their lead to 43-22 by the half.

At this point, having caught wind of our @ODACcess livetweets, Guilford invited us to join the ranks of the press at the scorers’ table, right by the home bench. While we’d like to say we gleaned some insights from Coach Palombo due to our physical proximity and keen hearing, I’m afraid that would be a lie. What we did get was a spectacular view of the action and the environs of Alumni Gym. We also had a chance to hear Coach Palombo’s passionate encouragement to his squad, in a game that was already out of hand, to continue to hustle.

A view from the scorers' table

And hustle they did. The starters got to take much of the half off, although not before matching a season-best 11 three-pointers in the game. That provided opportunities for players on the back of the bench. Among the standouts was freshman Michael Byrd, who in his nine second-half minutes grabbed five points, showing a lot of energy in the process and making his pitch to be a big component of future Quaker teams. We like his chances.

The absence of the Guilford starters gave the Wasps an opportunity to claw a little closer. One of the bright spots for Coach Willson and the respectable fan contingent had to have been Drew Henry’s dunk late in the half. But the final stats make clear that they’ll have to work on their shooting if they want to grab their first conference win: a 31.9% field goal percentage won’t cut it in this competitive league. Guilford coasted through the second half to an 81-59 victory.

It’s a shame that Guilford is such a journey. They’re an exciting team that we’d love to see again.

Final: Guilford Quakers 81 (11-3, 5-0 ODAC), Emory and Henry Wasps 59 (2-12, 0-5)
Player of the Game: Matt McCarthy (Guilford, 20 points, 3 steals and 5 rebounds)
Mileage Tracker: 1226 miles
Next Stop: Lynchburg at Washington and Lee, January 18