ODACcess: Another Side, Another Story (Bridgewater @ Emory and Henry)

EMORY, Va. — Sometimes, it’s just not your season. No matter how you try, things don’t seem to go your way. This is one of those seasons for the Emory and Henry Wasps.
Expectations were not very high for the Wasps, and they were picked eleventh of twelve in the ODAC preseason poll. They had lost six-year head coach Paul Russo, who had resigned at the end of the 2011-12 season, and replaced him with Hampden-Sydney alumnus and former Furman assistant coach David Willson. They retained 2011-12 All-ODAC third team guard Malcolm Green, and it seemed they would rely on his offensive prowess to compete in the conference.

E&H head coach David Willson watches his team's warmups.
Unfortunately, things don’t always work out the way you hope for first year coaches. After a strong performance to open the season, with two neutral-court wins in the Berry College Classic in Georgia, Emory and Henry suffered 18 straight losses leading up to their matchup with Bridgewater. On Senior Day
In a touching pregame ceremony, the seven graduating seniors on the Wasps basketball team (along with the senior cheerleaders) received plaques of recognition and presented their own gift to Coach Willson. The group came together for a tender moment between the first-year head coach and the players whom his predecessor had recruited. In that moment, it was easy to fall prey to narrative tropes, to believe that the emotional power of the day would carry the Wasps to victory.

E&H got a quick start, jumping out to a four point lead by the 12-minute mark. The early success put a spark in the crowd, especially a cadre of students across from the Wasps’ bench. These fans deserve special mention for the sheer creativity of their cheering and (mostly) heckling. They particularly focused on BC’s Ronnie Thomas, whose hair drew comparisons to former Baylor star Britney Griner. Every call the officials made was met with vocal objections, even ones which to our eyes were uncontestable. We had no choice but admire their commitment to their team in a lost season.

Emory and Henry's vocal fan contingent

After the early impressive start, the Bridgewater shooters began to heat up. We’d already seen what BC was capable of, after their home victory over then-ranked Virginia Wesleyan. While the opposition here was not quite at the Marlin’s level, you wouldn’t know it from the way the Eagles’ players played, or the intensity of Coach Don Burgess and his assistants. At one point during the second half, Coach Burgess adamantly argued that a foul which had been called on Thomas rightly should have been called on Romie Powell, half-jokingly asking your correspondents if we had photo evidence. (We didn’t)

Emory and Henry's Malcolm Green blocks a shot by Bridgewater's Zach Hunter

Shortly after the ten-minute mark of the first half, Bridgewater took the lead on a fastbreak layup by Zach Walton, and never truly looked back. The Wasps’ inability to pull down an offensive board became hugely important when their shots stopped falling, and BC took advantage. The Eagles crafted an 18-8 run, powered by Tavis Stapleton on both defense and offense, to take a 10 point lead near the end of the half. While E&H cut into it over the last 3 minutes, they still trailed 34-28 by the break.

Stapleton and fellow Eagles star Ed Reddick continued Bridgewater’s sequence of dominance, scoring 10 of the Eagles first 23 points, and facilitating the scoring of the rest. In the process, BC opened up a 17 point lead over the first eleven minutes. E&H turnovers continued to be a problem, and the Wasps showed no aptitude for creating second-chance opportunities, or converting the few they created. Bridgewater never extended their lead beyond 17, but for a team that’s struggling like the Wasps, that might as well be 50. There might be some suffering in the future for the Wasps faithful in Southwest Virginia, with top scorers Malcolm Green and Charles Smith graduating. Coaching turnover is a difficult process, and Coach Willson has his work cut out for him.

• Final: Bridgewater Eagles (10-10, 5-7 ODAC) 76, Emory and Henry Wasps (2-19, 0-12 ODAC) 63
• Player of the Game: Tavis Stapleton (Bridgewater, 16 points, 7 rebounds, 2 steals)
• Relive the game from our seats: check out our photos on Flickr
• Mileage Tracker: 2420 miles
• Next Stop: Lynchburg at Shenandoah, February 15