HARRISONBURG, Va. — During our discussions of the Project over the course of our everyday lives, we realized that, while we had seen excellent basketball, none of the games we had covered had been truly close. Plenty had been competitive, with one team within striking distance of the other for much the game, but that is not what we mean by close. A truly close game is exhilarating, hair-raising, and the buzz in the building is almost indescribable. This was one of those games.
Of all the schools in the ODAC, Eastern Mennonite was the only school we had yet to see in our travels, which meant we didn’t exactly know what to expect from the Royals. They’d beaten the teams they were supposed to, and lost to the teams they weren’t, and found themselves slotted into the middle of the pack with a 5-4 conference record.
We had, however, visited Roanoke for “Maroon Madness”, when they gave front-running Randolph-Macon a run for their money in front of a boisterous crowd. They had backed up that strong performance with a home victory over Washington and Lee, and were coming into Yoder Arena on something of a roll.
After a stop at Jess’ Quick Lunch in downtown Harrisonburg, we made our way (slightly delayed) to Yoder Arena. The game was already heated when we found seats in the visitors’ fan section behind the RC bench. Both teams were playing extremely quick basketball, and playing it efficiently: based on our hasty halftime calculation, they each possessed the ball approximately 45 times. The Royals, in particular, lived up to their “Runnin’” nickname, moving up the floor quickly, and making athletic moves to the basket, highlighted by David Falk and James Williams. Roanoke, on the other hand, employed their standard offense, taking advantage of center Daniel Eacho’s size to create high-percentage shots in the post. The two styles, and the speed of the game, made for an excellent and competitive first half, and the fans (both home and visitor) were appreciative as the teams went to break with RC holding a 44-43 lead.
The pace slowed slightly in the second half, but the level of play never slackened. For the course of the half, neither team opened more than a 6 point edge, and they traded shot for shot, layup for layup, and free throw for free throw. EMU jumped out in front early, but soon cooled off, allowing Julian Ramirez to score 6 points as part of a 15-6 Maroons run to take a 59-53 lead. It seemed that RC was set to take control, but EMU had other ideas. David Falk unleashed a tremendous dunk as part of the Royals’ response, followed up by a triple from Ryan Yates. At the 11:54 mark, they retook the lead from the Maroons by a score of 63-62.
The pace began to pick back up, and the teams continued to show off their ability to create acrobatic shots, and draw the fouls. Notably, Daniel Eacho and Julian Ramirez picked up four and three fouls respectively in the half, but countered that with 23 points between them.
No matter where the players shot from, they seemed able to find the net. They continued this high-paced, back-and-forth play, with the lead either way only once three points, and with 1:48 left, after Ryan Yates missed a three-pointer for the Royals, the Maroons had a 83-82 lead, and a chance to extend their lead.
That’s when the madness began. EMU’s played stout defense, knowing that they needed a stop, or it might be over. The shot clock hit six and Andrew Daniels realized he was short on time, and threw up a NBA-range three that banked in. 86-82 Maroons, with 1:06 on the clock, and EMU called time out to regroup. Out of the break, EMU moved with purpose the floor, and scored on a quick Marcel Crump layup. EMU’s defense set out to force a turnover, but the Maroons got it across the floor. But wait…a travel is called on ‘Noke’s Cameron Smith with 30 ticks left, keeping the Royals’ hopes alive!
Off the turnover, Crump had an attempt at a game-tying jumper, but Smith redeemed himself with a block and rebound. He was quickly fouled, and went to the line for a one-and-one to try and seal it for the Maroons with 15 seconds on the clock. The Maroons opted to play back instead of defending the front end, but nonetheless Marcel Crump was able to take the bounce off the front of the rim, run the floor and find RJ Sims for the open, go-ahead three. 87-86 Royals, nine seconds left. Time for RC to call its last timeout and draw up its last play.
Except the Maroons didn’t call timeout. Instead, they ran the floor and found John Fitchett, who had had an otherwise unremarkable day, in the paint, and he drained a half-floater, half-layup with 2.4 seconds, making the Maroons fans that surrounded us lose their minds.
The Quakers quickly inbounded, but then the clock stopped before the final shot, causing confusion around the gym. Did the clock operator forget to turn the clock on? Was the game over? Nearby Maroon fans certainly thought it was, but it turned out that the EMU bench managed to call a timeout before the inbounds, allowing Coach Kirby Dean to draw up a play.
It was only fitting for this game to end the way it did: by taking a turn for the surreal. Attempting to inbound the ball, EMU’s inbounder tried to pass to a teammate behind the baseline, to allow him to get a better read of the court before inbounding. Instead, the teammate caught the ball in midair milliseconds before landing out of bounds, resulting in an inbounds violation and a turnover and allowing the Maroons to run out the brief time left on the clock on their third conference win of the year.
When we spoke with Dave McHugh on his marathon session of Hoopsville, we mentioned that the level of play in the ODAC was incredibly high. This was the kind of game that exemplifies that, the kind of game that sticks with you, and the kind of game that makes you excited for the next one.
• Final: Roanoke Maroons (9-9, 3-7 ODAC) 88, Eastern Mennonite Royals (10-9, 5-5 ODAC) 87
• Player of the Game: Daniel Eacho (Roanoke, 24 points, 7 rebounds, 4 blocks)
• Honorable Mention: David Falk (EMU, 22 points, 16 rebounds, 3 blocks, 1 steal)
• Relive the game from our seats: check out our photos on Flickr and our @ODACcess livestream on Storify
• Mileage Tracker: 1864 miles
• Next Stop: Randolph-Macon at Emory and Henry, February 8