By Brad Fauber
WINCHESTER -- Shenandoah University and No. 23 Virginia Wesleyan each entered Saturday's ODAC contest in the midst of multi-game losing streaks.
Shenandoah had lost six games in a row and seven of their last eight. Virginia Wesleyan, which had jumped out to a 7-0 record and a No. 1 national ranking earlier this season, had dropped four straight contests and tumbled in the D3hoops.com top 25 poll.
Virginia Wesleyan returned to form on Saturday, dominating the Hornets in nearly every facet of the game to pick up an easy 87-54 victory. The loss drops Shenandoah to 3-10 on the season, and 0-4 in conference play in their first season in the ODAC.
"We have a very young team, and we're trying to build it the right way. A game like this, I think shows our younger guys, hey, this is where we need to get to," Hornets coach Rob Pryor said. "Obviously the challenge is keeping our guys motivated for the next game."
Shenandoah was right in the game for most of the first half, trailing the Marlins just 29-23 when Hornets freshman guard Sharif Almulla scored on a runner off the glass with 4:16 to play in the half.
But the Marlins (8-4, 4-0 ODAC) responded quickly with a 3-pointer by senior guard Chris Teasley on their next possession, and the bucket sparked an 18-3 run by Virginia Wesleyan to end the first half. The Marlins held a 47-26 lead at halftime.
Things would only get worse for the Hornets in the second half as Virginia Wesleyan continued to exploit the young Shenandoah squad. The Marlins outscored Shenandoah 46-7 during a 14-minute stretch that spanned from late in the first half to midway through the second half. Shenandoah found itself trailing 75-30 with 10:13 left to play in the game.
"They start three seniors, two juniors -- three 1,000-point scorers, they have the ODAC player of the year [junior D.J. Woodmore] ... the list goes on and on. Eventually those guys are going to be who they are," Pryor said. "The thing that we have to understand is that we've gotta weather that storm a little bit better. Once they started making the runs, as a team we have to decide we are going to stop the run, either offensively or defensively."
Virginia Wesleyan had a balanced offensive attack on Saturday, with four players finishing with at least 12 points. Teasley led the way for the Marlins with 14 points, and Chris Astorga, Cameron Owens and Sedric Nady each had 12. Woodmore added nine points, eight rebounds and four assists for Virginia Wesleyan.
The Marlins shot well from the floor, hitting over 62 percent of their shots before head coach Dave Macedo began getting his bench players some work midway through the second half. Virginia Wesleyan finished with a 35-for-69 (50.7 percent) mark from the field.
Virginia Wesleyan's high shooting percentage was a direct result of the Marlins' ability to get the ball into the paint for high-percentage shots, especially on the fast break after forcing turnovers on defense.
"That's our game. We are athletic, we have speed, we have length and we want to get out and run in transition and score off our defense," Macedo said. "I just feel as if it hasn't been consistent. Tonight we did a better job of that."
Virginia Wesleyan forced 21 Shenandoah turnovers in the game, which directly led to 28 points for the Marlins. Virginia Wesleyan also scored 40 points in the paint.
The Marlins committed just eight turnovers and went through a 21-minute stretch without turning the ball over.
Shenandoah's offense struggled all night to create points against Virginia Wesleyan's man-to-man defense. The Hornets hit just 17 of 48 (35.4 percent) shots, including a 4-for-18 (22.2 percent) mark from beyond the 3-point arc. Shenandoah's shooting woes weren't limited to field goals -- the Hornets shot just 16 for 33 (48.5 percent) from the free throw line.
Sophomore Jared Carithers led Shenandoah with 14 points, 13 of which came in the first half. Sophomore Xavier Alston was the only other Hornet in double figures with 11 points and six rebounds. Front Royal native Eli McEathron scored five points for Shenandoah late in the second half.
Shenandoah will be back in action Wednesday at Randolph-Macon as the Hornets continue to work for that elusive first win in ODAC play.
"We're going to get better every day. I think the guys still believe -- we as a coaching staff still believe -- that we can be successful this season," Pryor season. "Success is defined differently for us at this stage in our program, but we're going to get there."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org