SALEM, Va. — Emory & Henry sophomore guard Colin Molden feared that his basketball season was over last month when he dropped to the floor of Bob Johnson Court in agony.
But thanks to some late-game heroics Sunday, the 6-foot Molden is headed to the NCAA Division III tournament dance after the fourth-seeded E&H Wasps downed the No. 2 Roanoke College Maroons 72-70 in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference tournament final at the Salem Civic Center.
With the victory, the Wasps earned their first trip to the national stage since 1993 when E&H reached the Sweet 16.
For Molden, Sunday’s conquest before a large crowd of E&H fans was all about determination. The drama began in the Jan. 20 contact against Randolph-Macon when Molden fell awkwardly on his left ankle.
“I thought the ankle was broken. That was the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life,” Molden said.
While play was still underway, Molden was transported to Johnston Memorial Hospital in Abingdon. The prognosis was grim.
“I had a grade III ankle sprain, which basically means that I tore up every ligament in the ankle,” Molden said.
Then came the comeback.
“We did everything imaginable so that I could get back for this tournament,” Molden said. “I was in the training room three times a day for five weeks. It was worth it.”
With Roanoke (20-8) leading 70-68 and 27 seconds left Sunday, Molden earned his reward by popping in the eventual game-winning three-pointer.
“I’m the type of guy who likes that situation, but Alic Wynn deserves credit for getting the offensive rebound and finding me with the pass,” Molden said.
After a Roanoke turnover, Chase Branscomb nailed one of two free throw attempts for E&H. The Maroons had one final hope, but a 35-foot jumper bounced off the back rim.
The other heroes for E&H (22-6) were senior roommates Branscomb (29 points, six rebounds) and John Shelor (24 points). Wynn supplied 14 rebounds and two blocks.
Branscomb, the tournament MVP, relaxed on a couch with the tournament trophy in the media room after the landmark win.
“The ball was bouncing our way in terms of shooting today, but it’s really hard to think of it as luck when you’ve put in the amount of work that we have,” Branscomb said. “A lot of blood, sweat and tears went into this trophy.”
The Wasps lost to Guilford in last year’s ODAC game.
“This is a complete 180 from last year,” Branscomb said.
There was another backstory to Sunday’s achievement for E&H. In Saturday night’s 78-76 win over No. 9 Eastern Mennonite, the Wasps lost 12.1 ppg. scorer Daniel Spencer to an ankle injury 18 minutes into the game while Shelor was limited to two minutes after breaking both of his nasal bones.
“Last night was amazing trying to figure out all the stuff with our injuries,” E&H coach David Willson said. “Colin was hobbled, so we had to pull him out a little, Daniel was out basically the entire second half, and John had to go to the hospital. So I played like six guys the entire second half. Our guys were just so resilient.”
Resilient is a fitting term for Shelor. Due to his injury Saturday, the 6-3 senior from Giles was forced to find and wear a facemask Sunday.
“Some dude hit me with me with an elbow. I went straight to the emergency room, and they told me not to play Sunday,” Shelor said. “I couldn’t leave my teammates out there, so I went looking for a mask.”
A mask was located at the home of a family friend in Giles and Shelor’s girlfriend arrived with the device Sunday morning.
“I have an amazing girlfriend,” Shelor said. “The mask fit pretty well, and I could see the basket. Once the game started, the guys found me in shooting spots, and I knocked the shots down.”
E&H built leads of 14-4 and 38-27 in the first half. After Roanoke scored the eight points of the second half to go up 46-40, E&H answered with a 24-7 run for a 66-55 advantage.
But this melodrama came down to the relentless Molden, who has continually defied defenders with his ability to make an array of shots.
“It’s always hard not to have the chance to play for your brothers. My trainers and coaches did a great job getting me back as fast as they could for this day,” said Molden, who finished with eight points, seven assists and three steals.