By: Brian Laubscher
Sports Information Director
Hard to believe, but basketball season begins next Sunday, November 15 and today is women’s basketball media day in Salem. The fall season will no doubt provide us with some more exciting moments, but today I’m looking ahead to the winter season and, in particular, basketball.
Below I’m going to revisit some of my favorite men’s basketball moments from the past 11 seasons. Basketball is an interesting study in frustration and excitement. There have been far more lows than highs over the years, but that just serves to make the highs than much better. So, here are just a few of my highlights for the men’s basketball program since 1998.
Jan. 12, 2000
W&L defeated Lynchburg by a score of 96-92 in four overtimes. A seemingly normal (or boring depending on how you wanted to look at it) game got crazy exciting when Chad Braley got hot from beyond the arc, drilling four second half three’s to help the Generals recover from a 10-point halftime deficit. Regulation ended in a 60-60 tie, but the two teams combined to score 68 points over the 20 extra minutes and many in dramatic fashion. Dennis Brown was unstoppable for the Hornets, scoring 32 points and grabbing 10 rebounds, but is remembered for missing a breakaway layup at the end of one of the overtimes that would have claimed victory for LC. As it would end up, Brian Ricketts was the hero with the craziest boxscore line ever: 27 points, 21 rebounds and six blocked shots in 58 minutes played! That’s 58 of the 60 minutes. Almost 1 ½ games. This should have been a foreshadowing as Ricketts now competes in ultra-marathons, which require running 50 miles or more. Sadly, Brown, the game’s other stud, was murdered in Lynchburg just a few years later.
Feb. 19, 2000
The Generals won just six conference games but it was enough to secure the sixth seed for the ODAC Tournament where W&L knocked off third-seeded Bridgewater, 55-50. The Generals controlled the pace of play and were a perfect 19-of-19 from the free throw line in pulling the upset for their first tournament win since 1989-90. The next night W&L nearly pulled another shocker before falling to Roanoke, 66-60. I just remember how much that Bridgewater win meant to the guys on that team.
Nov. 16, 2001
The Generals competed in a tournament co-hosted by Haverford and Swarthmore the weekend of Nov. 17-18, defeating the Fords and falling to Swarthmore. This had nothing to do with the games and everything to do with my mistake. After seeing the Generals go a combined 19-55 (.257) over my first three years and while making this trip to the season-opening tournament with Mike Walsh (AD) and Brendan Harrington (Radio), I asked Mike whether he thought the Generals would ever finish a season with a .500 record ever again. BIG MISTAKE, especially in a car with nowhere to go but to take the backlash. The question would be answered six seasons later in 2008 when W&L finally finished with that elusive winning record.
Jan. 23, 2002
W&L fell on the road at Emory & Henry by a score of 76-75. The memorable part of this game had nothing to do with who won or lost, but the remarkable game played by sophomore forward Hamill Jones. Jones, who averaged just 5.2 points per game for the season, had the game of his life that evening. He was 15-of-16 from the floor in scoring a career-high 32 points. His 93.8 shooting percentage remains the best shooting percentage in school history.
Dec. 1, 2007
W&L finally had done it. There were a lot of losing streaks that needed to end, but by far the longest was the streak to Randolph-Macon. Heading into Dec. 1, 2007, the Generals had lost to the Yellow Jackets 43-straight times dating back to 1977. There were some close losses and some blowouts for sure as the years passed, but the streak finally ended that day. The Generals opened a 40-28 lead at halftime and I found myself getting giddy about the fact that I might actually see a win over R-MC. As the second half wore on, you could see the game slowly slipping away. R-MC had a pair of layup attempts at the end to try to tie it, but neither were true and the game went to overtime. This is where the game really became interesting for me. This game was part of a double-header with the women’s team and I usually order pizza for the crew because they typically miss a meal when working double-headers. Of course the pizza delivery man showed up during the overtime and I had to slip out of the gym to sign for the pizzas. “I’ll be back shortly” I exclaimed to my crew as I walked out the gym, but little did I know the credit card did not go through from when I placed the order and they made me speak to the Papa John’s rep to straighten things out. The moment had finally arrived when I might actually see W&L knock off R-MC and I wasn’t even in the gym. As the final seconds were counting down in overtime, I handed the phone to the pizza guy and walked back into the gym just in time to see Greg Bienemann make the winning layup with two seconds remaining. I didn’t miss it after all and Papa Johns even realized that the card did swipe correctly and all was good. Unforgettable.
Recently, the Generals have had a string of exciting moments. There have been some epic games with old rival Roanoke and some other streaks ended like beating Hampden-Sydney. However, nothing compares with the team’s run to the ODAC title game last season. The double-overtime win over Guilford in the quarterfinals was truly a special game. The win over Bridgewater in the semifinals was very sweet on a personally significant day for me. The loss to Virginia Wesleyan in the finals was another exciting affair. In the end, it almost didn’t matter that the Generals fell five points shy of the conference title. It mattered that they mattered. For so long, there were painful losses and hard feelings about the state of the program. The 2008-09 Generals making the finals made it all worth it. Hey, it was for them, but it was for the rest of us too. The players that came before them that never got to taste success. Guys like Brian Ricketts, Scott Hudson, Chad Braley, Will Ballard, Scott Hettermann, Hamil Jones, Chris Halkitis, etc. Greg Bienemann, Alex White and Femi Kusimo weren’t in uniform that week, but they were in the stands and shared in the excitement the same way the rest of us did. It was truly a special moment.