By Marty Gordon
Radford University began March Madness with a trip to the Big South Conference tournament Friday, March 3, at 8 p.m. against Winthrop after the team finished 18-13 this season, including a 12-6 record in Big South play.
The RU men’s basketball program has gone 31-33 in 64 all-time games in the Big South Tournament dating back to the beginning of the league. The Highlanders have appeared in eight championship games and won three of them: 1998, 2009, and 2018. Their last appearance in the title bout came in 2019 when Gardner-Webb came to the Dedmon Center and escaped with their NCAA Tournament ticket punched. Radford played just one game at Bojangles Coliseum last season, falling to No. 9 N.C. A&T, 78-71, in overtime.
The Highlanders racked up four Big South postseason awards for the 2022-23 campaign. DaQuan Smith headlined the honors with a Second-Team All-Big South selection while Bryan Antoine earned an honorable mention nod, Kenyon Giles made the Big South All-Freshman Team, and Shaquan Jules took his place on the Big South All-Academic Team for the second straight year.
Meanwhile, the Radford women are also poised for tournament time. The team has earned the fourth seed in the Big South Tournament and began play in the Quarterfinals on Thursday, March 2, at the Bojangles Coliseum in Charlotte. Should the Highlanders advance, the semifinals will tip at 6 p.m. today, March 4, and the championship game will be at 6 p.m. on March 5.
Radford’s visit to Charlotte will mark the 34th time in program history the team has competed in the Big South Tournament. Over that span Radford has played in 67 tournament games with an overall record of 42-25, the most tournament wins of any woman’s team in the big South. This year’s seeding marks Radford’s first-ever appearance in that slot in the Big South Tournament. During the McGuire decade, Radford has posted seven wins including two championship appearances and a tournament win in 2019.
Two Highlanders earned postseason Big South awards this year. Ashlyn Traylor became only the fourth player in RU women’s basketball history to be named the Big South Freshman of the Year. Traylor was also named to the conference’s second-team and all-freshman team. Vanessa Blake was named to the conference’s all-academic team.
Freshman Traylor was also the team’s leading scorer at 12.7 points per game. She led the team in scoring 15 times in individual games this season. Traylor also reached the 20-point scoring mark four times this season, another team-best mark.
Senior Rachel LaLonde isn’t far behind, averaging 9.3 points per game with 13 different 10+ point performances this season. Sophomores Vanessa Blake and Carmen Williams each averaged more than eight points per game.
Defensively, LaLonde has been Radford’s best rebounder all year averaging 8.9 boards per game. Blake averaged 5.4 rebounds per game and led the team with a whopping 80 offensive rebounds. Traylor also led the squad in steals this season, nabbing 60 thefts while Wagner, Williams and LaLonde all have more than 35 steals. As a team, Radford ranks fourth in the Big South, averaging 8.55 steals per game.
The Highlanders currently own top-five marks in the conference for multiple stat categories. Radford ranks fourth in scoring (62.8 ppg) and third in points allowed (61.0 ppg), good for a fourth-best ranking in average scoring margin (1.8). The women are shooting 42% overall from the floor and 31% from beyond the three-point arc, also good for a fourth-place ranking in the Big South. The team is also in the league’s top four spots in per-game totals for blocks (3.17), steals (8.55), assists (12.97), defensive rebounds (27.9), and free throw percentage (69.9%).
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