|Miles Mallory blocked three shots, but it was a team effort defensively as Randolph-Macon held Elmhurst to 27% shooting and 13% from 3-point range.
Photo by Steve Frommell, d3photography.com
By Ryan Scott
FORT WAYNE, Indiana – The national championship is a culmination, but it’s not the end. Buzz Anthony is the D3hoops.com Player of the Year. He’ll ride off into the sunset, no doubt to an excellent coaching career. The Yellow Jackets march on.
As much talk as there is about Randolph-Macon potentially completing a three-peat in Fort Wayne if not for COVID, there may still be titles in their future. This is not a senior laden team back for one more run, it’s a true program, built to last, bringing players from every class along and working them into the rotation as they learn their roles.
“Going into the game,” says Anthony, “I grabbed some of my juniors and said, ‘Hey, these people in Fort Wayne, I want you to make an impression. Y’all are going to be back here next year.”
Anthony and David Funderburg are out of eligibility. Ian Robertson and DaQuan Morris are seniors with remaining eligibility, but will likely move on. Almost every team loses valuable pieces every year, but Randolph-Macon have plenty returning.
The emergence of Daniel Mbangue has given the Yellow Jackets an intense shot in the arm and a lot of flexibility when it comes to lineups and defensive schemes. Coach Josh Merkel says, “He might have been the difference between winning and losing a national championship.”
Will Coble is a dead-eye shooter who’s come on more and more as the season progresses. A big part of that was their only loss, to Christopher Newport in November.
Anthony noted, “For all five of my years, CNU has been a great test for us. We’ve used them as a measuring stick for where we are in the year. They have been to the Final Four, which we wanted to do. They’re really good at bullying and being physical. We learned standing there with your hands up is not enough. We really challenged a lot of guys – Will Coble, Mbangue, guys who hadn’t been in the physicality of the game, learned from a Final Four team and a Final Four coach what it would take to not be bullied. ”
Afterwards, they rattled off 27 wins and a national championship – a streak that will continue into next year. Merkel worked Noah Lindsay and Vincent Payne into the title game early with a specific intentions to get them experience at the highest level.
Josh Talbert missed the CNU game due to injury, but he’s been the team’s best on-ball defender and a more-than-capable replacement for Anthony at the point. There will certainly be a drop-off and a learning period without the four-time ODAC Player of the Year, but there’s plenty more where that came from.
“Lance [Johnson] had a nice bucket and scored. He’s head and shoulders above the guys he’s against, ”says Merkel of the next generation who featured in the final few minutes in Fort Wayne. “Loginn Norton is right there. Those guys have to keep working and I’m excited to see what they do. ”
They’ll learn and grow in the shadow of the quiet giant in the paint. Miles Mallory, a second team All-American forward is a lock down defender and athletic wunderkind who’s only beginning to understand his potential on both ends of the floor.
“I don’t think it’s hit him yet, what he can do,” says Mallory’s mother, Lynda. “From his freshman year to now, it’s such a big difference. He’s better than his former self. ”
Every post player Randolph-Macon has beaten in the tournament talked about how good a defender Mallory is. His positioning and strength, along with a fantastic jumping ability and body control allow him to make things difficult for even the biggest opponent.
“I love the respect,” says Mallory. “I respect those guys so much, they definitely challenged me with strength and skill. I love the challenge of guarding the greatest players and telling them that about me is, I mean, yeah. ”
Despite numbers nearly identical to his freshman season, Mallory has grown leaps and bounds, both as a player and a leader.
“It’s never about numbers,” says Merkel. “You can’t judge our team on numbers. [Miles] is very confident. He’s good with his left. His touch is still there, his defense. He enables other guys around him to play to strengths. ”
Adds Mallory, “I’m thinking the game more. Little things, like working on my handle. Scoring in different ways. It’s all the little things in unseen hours. My teammates speaking greatness into me always helps. ”
In some ways, it’s too soon to speak of next year right after the nets get cut down. On the other hand, it’s impossible not to think what this Randolph-Macon program can build on the success they’ve achieved. It may be the end of a three-year COVID odyssey, but it’s just the beginning of what’s possible in Ashland, Virginia.