SALEM, Va. - Jaylen Gore scored a career- and game-high 22 points in Guilford College's 70-59 upset of top-seeded Randolph-Macon College in Sunday's Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) Basketball Tournament final in the Salem Civic Center.
The Quakers (21-7) captured their fourth ODAC Tournament title under coach Tom Palombo and the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Division III playoffs. Guilford will make its sixth NCAA Tournament appearance and first since winning the 2017 ODAC crown.
Randolph-Macon (25-3), ranked fifth in this week's D3hoops.com Top 25 Poll, had a 12-game winning streak snapped, but will likely join the Quakers in the NCAA Tournament as an at-large selection. The 64-team field will be announced 12:30 p.m. (EST) Monday (2/25) on www.ncaa.com.
Gore, a redshirt-sophomore point guard, set the tone early Sunday with 11 first-half points on 4-of-6 shooting and excellent defense. The all-tournament team selection helped the Quakers overcome an early six-point deficit and claim a 28-26 halftime lead.
"He really became the leader of our team this weekend," Palombo said. "When you get in the ODAC Tournament he seems to switch into another gear. He's calling plays out there. He's running the show. He's making decisions and we really need that. Our players fed off of him and he played really, really well."
Luke Neeley's 3-pointer 27 seconds into the second half trimmed Guilford's lead to one, but Gore answered with a layup at the other end. The basket triggered a decisive 15-5 Guilford run over the next nine-and-a-half minutes. Six different Quakers tallied during the spurt, including Steve Ruszala (6 points), who's tip-in basket with 10:53 left in regulation opened Guilford's biggest lead, 47-34, and forced a Yellow Jackets' timeout.
With Guilford largely controlling the interior, Randolph-Macon tried to rally with outside shooting. After Liam Ward's follow basket with 5:34 left gave Guilford a 56-43 advantage, the Jackets outscored the Quakers, 11-3, over the next four minutes. Buzz Anthony's triple with 1:37 remaining capped the run and made it a 59-54 game, but Randolph-Macon drew no closer. Guilford iced the game by making 12-of-13 free throws and holding the top seed to 2-of-6 field-goal shooting in the final 90 seconds.
Guilford, one of the nation's top rebounding teams, won the battle of the boards, 49-32, its fifth-largest rebounding margin of the year. Randolph-Macon had just six offensive boards in the game and was outscored in second-chance points, 10-3. Guilford's Kyler Gregory, the Tournament's Most Outstanding Player, delivered 12 points and 11 rebounds for his team-leading seventh double-double of the season.
"That's just what we hang our hats on," Gregory said. "We really get after the rebounds and know if we can own the inside we can win the game."
Ward shared game-high honors with a career-best 11 boards, and added nine points and two blocks in 22 productive minutes off the bench. All-tournament team pick Carson Long added 11 points and eight rebounds. Guilford's Marcus Curry finished with 10 points.
Anthony, the ODAC's 2019 Player of the Year, led the Yellow Jackets with 13 points and five assists before fouling out with 42 seconds left. Corey Bays made a game-high four 3-points and scored nine of his 12 points in the second half. Neeley, who joined Anthony as Randolph-Macon's all-tournament selections, finished with 10 points. The Yellow Jackets shot 11-for-35 (31.4%) from 3-point range.
"We'll enjoy tonight. Winning the ODAC Tournament is great," Palombo said after improving to 4-0 in ODAC Tournament finals. "You can't just be happy to be in the NCAA Tournament. You really have to believe it's another beginning for you. You have to figure out how to win on Friday, just like we tried to figure out how to win last Thursday. We'll try to win one game. That's what we did in the ODAC Tournament."
Guilford, now 4-0 versus nationally ranked teams this year, will host an NCAA Tournament Selection Show Watch Party on campus Monday, February 25 at 12:30 p.m. (EST) in the school's Community Center, located in the New Apartments complex.