Strong finish sends No. 10 Virginia Wesleyan into ODAC title game

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SALEM, Va. -- Virginia Wesleyan College's men's basketball Marlins will return to the Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) championship game for the fourth straight year and ninth in the past 12.

The Marlins, defending ODAC champs and six-time champions overall, earned a berth in the 2015 title game against the nation's top-ranked Randolph-Macon College Yellow Jackets with a hard-fought 61-51 victory over Guilford College's Quakers in semifinal action Saturday at the Civic Center.

Virginia Wesleyan (23-4), ranked No. 10 nationally, will face the Yellow Jackets (25-2) for the third time this season on Sunday, March 1, at 1 p.m. at the Civic Center.  R-MC squeaked out victories in the previous two meeting this year, 55-47 and 66-63.  Sunday's winner receives the conference's automatic berth in the upcoming NCAA Division III tournament, while the loser will have to wait until Monday to learn of any berth in the annual national event.

Guilford (18-9), which lost to the Marlins for the third time this season, hung around until about the 13 minute mark of the second half, when VWC's pressuring defense and the Quakers' inability to hit a basket had lethal results.  Virginia Wesleyan took advantage of both situations to outscore Guilford 21-9 in the final 13:02 to post the win.

While a balanced offense, led by senior Brandon Mitchell(Albany, Ga./Westover) and junior Nick Doyle(Franklin, Va./Southampton), gave the Marlins a lead they never gave up in the final 13 minutes, Guilford attempted 15 shots and hit just one.  The Quakers missed on 13 straight field goal attempts, including nine triple attempts, until Will Koppenhaver (Boone, N.C./Watauga) scored on a layup with 1:39 remaining in the game. 

Seven Marlins scored in the final surge to the victory, paced by Doyle with six points.  Mitchell added five points and senior Breven Lyons(Newport News/Warwick)scored three. Cole Green (Walnut Coven,, N.C./South Stokes) hit a triple to give Guilford its last lead of the game at 42-40 with 13:02 on the clock. Two minutes later the Marlins were up 44-42 as sophomore Kaelin Poe(Greensboro, N.C./Hampton Kecoughtan, Va.) hit a free throw and Lyons drilled through a triple.

Doyle and Mitchell combined to score 11 points in the final 4:34 to escort the Marlins to the win.

Virginia Wesleyan led by as many as eight points in the first half, but an impressive shooting effort by Trever Hyatt (Connelly Springs, N.C./East Burke) propelled the Quakers into the lead.  He hit 6-of-11 field goals, including 5-of-8 triples, en route to 17 points. His fifth triple of the half, with only four seconds remaining, gave Guilford a 29-26 lead at halftime.

ODAC Player of the Year Matt McCarthy (Rockville, Md./Good Counsel) helped boost Guilford into a five-point lead early in the second half, but VWC fired back from long range. Consecutive triples from Doyle, Cam Owens (Centreville/Centreville), and Lyons returned the lead to Virginia Wesleyan at 40-39 with 14:40 on the clock.  Greene's triple followed seconds later to give the Quakers the lead ... for the final time of the game.

Mitchell led VWC with 13 points, hitting 6-of-8 field goals, while Doyle added 12 points, connecting on 5-of-7 shots. Sophomore Khory Moore (Arlington/Wakefield School)rounded out VWC's double-figure scoring with 10 points.

Virginia Wesleyan turned the ball over just five times, but helped to force 17 Guilford miscues. The Marlins produced nine steals, led by Lyons with three. Lyons and Moore also led the Marlins with three assists each.

Hyatt led all scoring, netting 23 points for the Quakers. He finished with a 9-of-20 showing from the field overall.  Jonny Rice (Fayetteville, N.C./Terry Sanford) was the next highest scorer for Guilford, tallying nine points.