With three minutes and 46 seconds left in the second half of their second-round NCAA elimination playoff game, the Marlins were clinging on to a precious seven-point lead over the Wesley College Wolverines.
Then, to the roar of a packed J.P. Batten Student Center crowd, sophomore guard Sedric Nady nailed a three-point field goal.
“Once he hit that shot, we went on our run and pretty much controlled the rest of the game,” said team captain and senior guard D.J. Woodmore. “His basket was the turning point in the game. From there, it was just a free throw competition.”
“It’s all about finding a way to win and advancing,” said team captain and point guard Aaron Clark.
“For our seniors, this is their fourth trip to the Sweet Sixteen,” said head men’s basketball coach Dave Macedo after the game. “They’ve done an outstanding job. Everybody just wants to win.”
The Marlins, however, will have to place their past successes aside as they shift their focus to Fredericksburg, Virginia, home of the University of Mary Washington Eagles. Ranked 17th in the nation, the Eagles, who defeated the Marlins 95-87 in overtime on Dec. 17, will have home-court advantage in the round of sixteen.
“It’s a big challenge as they are a good team and have been playing well all year,” said Clark. “I’m sure they’ll have a great crowd to support them and it will be a challenge to go on the road and play in a game of this magnitude.”
“We lost to this team the first time around,” said freshman guard Khory Moore. “We are a very good team and it is hard to beat us twice in one season.”
The University of Mary Washington offers a unique matchup for the Marlins. The Eagles are fourth in the nation in three-point field goals per game and total three-point field goals made, making 301 three-point shots throughout their season. Virginia Wesleyan is right behind the Eagles though, as the Marlins have knocked down 296 three-point field goals on the season, putting them fifth in the nation.
“Mary Washington presents the challenge that you have to make shots to beat them,” said Woodmore. “We are one of the best-shooting teams in the country and so are they, which means whichever team shoots it better from the field will have the better chance of winning.”
The Marlins, however, have a significant advantage as they tout the best three-point field goal defense in the country. In their 30 games on the season, Virginia Wesleyan has allowed just 123 three-point field goals, 34 less than the next closest team.
Another intriguing aspect of the Eagles’ hosting the Sweet Sixteen round is that, unlike in previous years when the Marlins had to make long journeys to Wisconsin and Massachusetts, the team gets to stay in their home state.
“It means a lot to stay in the state of Virginia,” said Woodmore. “This means we don’t have plane rides that can tire teams out and can potentially draw a bigger fan support than most other teams in the tournament.”
“We know a lot of our fellow students are from areas close to Mary Washington so it may be possible to have a good crowd with it being spring break this weekend,” said Clark. “Most of us on the team are from the area so it’s not a bad drive for our families as well.”