Disappointing debut: Hornets fall flat in first game at new athletics center

Shenandoah University's Christian Meredith loses his balance as he goes up for a shot during first half action Monday evening against Randolph Macon College inside Shenandoah University's James R. Wilkins, Jr. Athletic and Events Center in Winchester. Rich Cooley/Daily

WINCHESTER – The excitement running throughout Shenandoah University’s men’s basketball team regarding the opening of the school’s new James R. Wilkins, Jr. Athletics & Events Center reached its peak Wednesday evening when the Hornets played their first game inside the facility. Randolph-Macon took the air out of SU’s landmark event.

Undone by 25 turnovers and 13 Yellow Jacket 3-pointers, Shenandoah suffered its most lopsided loss of the season – and its ninth loss in its last 11 games – in a 90-56 Old Dominion Athletic Conference defeat in front of its largest home crowd of the season.

Hornets sophomore point guard Jalyn Jarrett and sophomore forward Chris Chaney each declined to explicitly blame SU’s performance on the excitement level on the school’s big night being too high, but something certainly was amiss.

“We didn’t scrap enough,” said Chaney, who led Shenandoah with 14 points and nine rebounds. “Some players scrapped, some players didn’t. We just didn’t get after it.”

Senior Jonah Meredith (11 points, seven rebounds) scored the Hornets’ first points inside the AEC when he rattled in the second of two free throws one minute and 51 seconds into the action, and Chaney gave SU its first lead in its new building with a fastbreak layup with 9:35 left in the first half. The highlights were few the rest of the way for SU.

Shenandoah University's Dominic Steward fires a three point shot while Randolph Macon's Corey Bays defends inside Shenandoah University's James R. Wilkins, Jr. Athletic and Events Center in Winchester Wednesday evening. Rich Cooley/Daily

The Hornets (8-12, 3-8 ODAC) couldn’t take full advantage of a five-minute Randolph-Macon scoring drought midway through the first half and mustered only a 1-point lead before the Yellow Jackets (15-5, 9-2) gathered their offensive footing.

The closing sequence in the waning seconds of the first half, SU head coach Adam Walsh said, offered insight into the Hornets’ level of focus.

Trailing 31-29, SU gave up a bucket inside to Macon’s Montese Adams with four seconds on the clock, then had its inbounds pass swiped away by Grayson Midulla, who nailed a deep 3-pointer at the buzzer to send the Yellow Jackets into halftime with a 36-29 lead. Walsh said three Hornet players were walking off the court toward the locker room during Midulla’s steal and buzzer beater.

“For us to turn the corner, it takes discipline to be able to lock in those possessions, those types of situations,” Walsh said. “And that set the tone for Randolph-Macon. I mean coming out of halftime they had that, that they were living on, that just happened. ‘Man, these guys just don’t wanna win.’ That’s what they’re saying in their locker room. We’re coming back to our locker room, we’re saying ‘Hey man, do we wanna win?’ And we’re asking that same question because teams that are ready to compete day in and day out are gonna lock in and make those plays. And I wear that. That’s on me to fix.”

The Hornets never got closer than 4 points (they trailed 43-39 with 16:09 left after Meredith’s driving layup), and things got ugly as Randolph-Macon outscored SU 54-27 in the second half. Shenandoah mustered only 15 points over the final 14 minutes against the ODAC’s leading scoring defense.

Shenandoah University's Chris Chaney floats inside the lane for a shot around a host of Randolph Macon defenders during a game last season inside Shenandoah University's James R. Wilkins, Jr. Athletic and Events Center in Winchester. Rich Cooley/Daily file

SU turned the ball over 13 times in the second half, and Randolph-Macon ended the night with 30 points off the Hornets’ 25 turnovers. The Yellow Jackets ran a pack-line man defense similar to that of the University of Virginia, Walsh said.

“They make it difficult to come off of ball screens but it’s just a ball-screen read. If you run a ball screen offense, every screen is a read situation and we have to be able to make the right read and recover off of it and still create what we want,” Walsh said. “There were a lot of possessions where we ended up dribbling off our foot or throwing it somewhere where somebody wasn’t, and those are plays that you just have to be able to make as a basketball player in the heat of the moment, and we didn’t make them today.”

Randolph-Macon, which shot 46.1 percent from the floor and 37.1 percent from 3 (13-for-35), hit 6 of 14 3-pointers in the second half and scored 22 second-chance points. Buzz Anthony, who was 4-for-6 from beyond the arc, finished with 24 points to lead a quartet of double-figure scorers for the Yellow Jackets.

Shenandoah, which played without Aaron Patterson (illness), the team’s scoring leader in conference play, was 41.2 percent from the floor, hit only two 3-pointers and scored just 2 points in transition.

“We’re at our best when we’re in transition, outrunning teams and making the extra pass,” Jarrett said. “Sometimes tonight we (were) a little stagnant on offense just by holding the ball too long. That kind of slowed us down.

Shenandoah University's Alan Dabney grabs a pass inside the lane as Randolph Macon's Max Morrow, left, and Terry Woods, below, defend during first half action Wednesday evening. Rich Cooley/Daily

“We’ve gotta secure rebounds,” he added. “Our team, we like to get out and run sometimes, and running, we’ve gotta make sure we get the rebound before. That’s the good and the bad that comes with it sometimes. We’ve just gotta make sure we close out those possessions and then we can get out in transition.”

Prior to tip-off, Shenandoah University President Tracy Fitzsimmons addressed the crowd and took several minutes to thank the Wilkins family for their contributions to the school. The building’s namesake, James Wilkins, Jr., was in Aruba and unable to attend Wednesday’s grand opening, though his son, Richie, briefly spoke to the crowd before the start of the game.

Walsh said after the game that he was pleased by the turnout.

“We need people and this is how we build a program, and this is how we build a culture,” he said. “When we can sell to recruits that we’re playing in front of 1,000 people every night and we’re talking about what it does for the community and the atmosphere and the environment that this creates, I’m thrilled by the crowd.”

Shenandoah University basketball coach Adam Walsh paces along the bench during a game last year at the James R. Wilkins Jr. Athletic and Events Center in Winchester. Rich Cooley/Daily file