Rams escape oversized Panthers in overtime, 75-72
Despite yet another 16-point deficit, the Rams once again found a way to grapple and claw their way to fourth straight win – this one being a 75-72, overtime victory at a filled C.E. Gaines Center against a tough Virginia Union team.
WSSU guard C.J. Ford performed exceptionally, shooting 60 percent from the field, including an impressive 4 of 8 from behind the arc and 75 percent shooting from the free-throw line to finish with a game-high 19 points. Other Rams with double-digit performances were Terell Leach with 14, Keith Armstrong with 12 and Will Crandell with 10.
Assistant Coach Brion Dunlap said the key to the victory was ball handling, attacking the boards in spite of the size disadvantage, teamwork, capitalizing on VUU’s mistakes and defensive aggression. He added that winning the game was major for Head Coach
James Wilhelmi, who was absent because of an urgent family matter.
“It was great for us to be able to get this for Coach for what he’s going through,” said Dunlap, who is in his first year with WSSU.
“We told the guys before the game; like, this is our way of trying to repay him for the things he’s done to the team thus far… We know that real life doesn’t stop, but this moment toady – this is a gift that we could give to him.”
The Rams were down 29-13 around the seven-minute mark in the first half, and through heightened defensive intensity and offensive efficiency they rallied back to tie the game, 66-66, at the end of regulation.
The defensive intensity continued, as the Rams forced five straight VUU turnovers to start overtime. WSSU converted on the offensive end of the floor, jumping to a four-point lead within one minute on two made free throws by Armstrong and a layup by Rayvon Harris. From there, the Rams never looked back.
Assistant Coach Andrew Brown, who’s also in his first season with the Rams’ coaching staff, said defensive intensity played an integral part in WSSU’s slim defeat of VUU – post defense in particular, considering the size disparity in favor of the Panthers.
“The key to tonight’s win was defense,” Brown said.
“And that’s one thing we’ve been talking to our guys a lot is defending the basketball. If you want to be a championship team you gotta be able to defend the basketball. And we really stepped it up in the defensive intensity in the second half of the game, and we made some stops in overtime which was huge.”
Ray Anderson led VUU with a team-high 18 points and four steals. Anderson, a 6-foot-3 guard, leads the CIAA in scoring averaging 21.3 points per game. Forward Danny McElroy dropped 15 points and center John Mitchell added 13 for the Panthers, who fall to 12-11 overall and 5-6 in CIAA play with the loss.
The Feb. 1 win over the Panthers is the Rams’ first over an opponent from the CIAA’s Northern Division. With the victory moves WSSU to 11-11 on the season and 5-6 in CIAA play. Next, the Rams face visit Saint Augustine’s, a Southern Division adversary on Feb. 6.
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