On the Bus

Men’s Basketball Heads to Bridgewater for First Round of ODAC Tournament
Jikari Johnson, junior, flashes the W sign after the Panthers knocked off Bridgewater in the first round of the ODAC tournament Monday.
Jikari Johnson, junior, flashes the W sign after the Panthers knocked off Bridgewater in the first round of the ODAC tournament Monday.
Staf Photo
Navigate Left
Navigate Right
  • Darwin Randolph, junior, glides toward the rim against the Bridgewater Eagles Monday.

  • Bryant Wall, junior, goes up in the paint for two of his 19 points against Bridgewater.

  • Calvin Washington, senior, gets past a defender and takes the ball to the hoop.

  • Jikari Johnson, junior, drives the baseline against Bridgewater for two of his 21 points Monday.

  • Tahli Oden, senior, drives the lane for two and picks up a foul along the way Monday against Bridgewater.

  • Charles Tart, junior, shuts down his Bridgewater opponent in Monday’s ODAC tournament game.

  • Zavier Measmer, junior, brings the ball up the court in the second half against Bridgewater Monday.

  • Alfredo-Abel Rivera, sophomore, lowers a shoulder and takes the ball past a defender.

Navigate Left
Navigate Right

The mood is light.

It’s 2:30 p.m. on Monday afternoon, and the men’s basketball team is preparing for a road trip to take on rival Bridgewater in the first round of the ODAC tournament.

Players file onto the bus one by one. Some with headphones and earbuds, some with hoodies pulled tight. It’s a bright afternoon, and even though the bus’ windows are tinted, the sun warms the interior.

In the first couple rows are bottles of water, a couple bags of oranges, and a box of assorted chips. Most bypass the chips for the water and oranges and move toward the back.

ESPN2 is playing on the video screens and piped through the speakers. Clips of Caitlyn Clark’s record-breaking shot and an interview with Steph Curry catch the attention of some. Others are underneath their ear buds and head phones. Others have eyes-closed–presumably focusing on the coming task.

The bus pulls out from behind Swartz Gym. The players seem hungry, and not just for the food stop in Roanoke 45 minutes away.  It’s round three with Bridgewater this year, and the Panthers are hoping to avenge two, regular-season overtime losses—the most recent at home by one point just five days ago.

As the bus hums up Rt. 40 and Rt. 220, there is little talking. The only real sound are the speakers and whir of the road, and when the bus pulls over in Roanoke for grub, Assistant Coach Garrett Dorfman is the last to exit.

“Superstition,” he says.

Dorfman is always the last one off the bus.


The team grabs a quick meal and heads back to their seats. The next couple hours are spent with each player in relative silence as the bus motors north.

When they pull in at Bridgewater, the players file off one by one and head to the locker room. Dorfman, in typical fashion, leaves last.

Head Coach Pat Corrigan has no read on how the fellas will play tonight.

“I’ve stopped trying to do that,” he says.

The players are now about 20 minutes into their shoot around–about an hour before tip-off.

They seem to be getting more comfortable. There is some light banter, and the guards work on moves outside the arc. The bigs are getting loose with post-ups and drop-steps in the paint.

Leading scorer Jikari Johnson, junior, drains several threes from beyond what would be the NBA range, several players mouth the words to the tunes playing over the public address system, and most are lightly bobbing their heads in rhythm to the music.

They seem loose. They seem ready. But if Corrigan isn’t sure, how would anyone else know?  And there are still 44 minutes before game time.

Fifteen minutes later, the players file off the floor and head to a classroom down the hall for instructions and tactics.

Another 10 minutes later, they are back on the floor with jump shots, lay-ups, spins, dunks, high fives, fist bumps, chest bumps, words of encouragement, and energy. It does seem as though the instructions they just received made a difference.

Bryant Wall, junior, throws down a jam and Calvin Washington, senior, follows suit like it is a game of horse, and Abe Bell, senior, throws down a one-handed jam to choruses of “Yea!”

Beads of sweat that become basketball grease are lubing the team machine that will take the floor in 15 minutes. The machine is getting warmer. A few, faint smiles appear on a couple players’ faces. Nerves? Enjoyment? Both?

The crowd is beginning to arrive, and a few Ferrum Faithfuls have made the trek north and head to the stands. The overall volume in the room is rising.

With 12 minutes remaining before tip off, the Panthers leave the court one final time for some last-minute words and instruction from Corrigan. The starters have been rostered for both teams, and Corrigan is going over the scouting reports and match-ups.

The horn sounds a 10-minute warning, and Bridgewater retreats to its locker room.

A few minutes later, both teams return for warm-ups, and more of the Panther Nation arrives–the college has loaded two vans with students and brought them in for support. The Panthers look bouncy but serious during the pregame ritual. The crowd appears antsy and bubbling with energy.

The sounds of sneakers squeaking, balls bouncing, and players encouraging each other is suddenly enveloped by the Bridgewater pep band, who lays into a brass version of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance”. It’s four minutes to tip off, and the music bounces off the cinder-blocked walls of the gym. Conversation is only possible by shouting over the music.

The band slams home the final measure, and briefly, there is no sound in the gym–just a pregnant echo. Then–shattering the brief silence is a roar from the top of the Panthers’ key where the team has gathered. They trot to the bench area, fist-bumping the coaches, pumping themselves up.

EJ MacArthur, sophomore, shouts to the team.

“It’s that time!” he yells.

It’s playoff basketball–the stakes are high–win or go home. The excitement is palpable. The entire gym takes a collective breath.

Tip off!


There are several sports cliches that could describe what happened next:

“The third time’s a charm” and “It’s hard to beat a good team three times” come to mind.

But Corrigan had his own quip prior to the first-round game for the ODAC tournament that continues at the Salem Civic Center Thursday.

“We owe them one,” he said.

Corrigan was referring to the two, regular-season overtime losses to Bridgewater, one by a point in the Panther gym less than a week ago.

But Ferrum erased the sting of both defeats with a  76-67 win over the Eagles, earning the right to play Hampden Sydney in the ODAC quarter finals tomorrow.

“We just felt like we didn’t give it our best effort the two times we played them,” Corrigan said. “But tonight, I thought we played a more complete game. Since that (overtime loss), we’ve talked about making winning plays and executing when it’s tough. It took us a little while to get going, but I thought we did that.”

The Panthers jumped out to an early lead off five points by Tahli Oden, senior, but no team led by more than three until Johnson nailed a jumper to go up four, 16-12 with 11:45 to go in the half.

Tahli Oden, senior, brings the ball up the court and prepares to drive against his Bridgewater opponent. (Staff Photo)

It didn’t take Bridgewater long to start scoring, and the Eagles regained the lead at the 10:39 mark to go up one, 17-16. While the Eagles held the lead, they went on an eight-point scoring run to go up 40-29 with 2:10 left in the first half.

But in the next two minutes, the Panthers rattled off seven unanswered points to close the gap to four and go into the break trailing 40-36.

“At halftime, we made a couple matchup  adjustments,” Dorfman said  “We put Darwin (Randolph, junior) on their point guard, and that worked for us. “It’s good to have someone so versatile like that. He started on their five and ended up on their point. He can guard anybody.”

The halftime adjustments seemed to work as the second half belonged mostly to the Panthers.

Behind a Wall dunk at the 19:40 point, a couple Oden free throws, and Johnson and Randolph three-pointers, Ferrum retook the lead with 17:19 left in regulation and would not trail again.

The Eagles did manage to knot the score 48-48 with 14:30 left to play, but two Alfredo Abel-Rivera, sophomore, free throws put the Panthers out front for good.

By the time the clock got to 6:04, Ferrum was up by 14 on a Washington lay-up, to make it 67-53, and it appeared the team was smelling the possibility of victory. Their body language was buoyant, the bench boisterous. By comparison, the Eagles home crowd got quieter. But still, the pep band played on.

At times it seemed reminiscent of the movie Titanic: The ship was sinking for the Eagles, but the band kept right on playing.

Indeed, the Bridgewater ship was taking on water, and even the band’s rousing version of The Kingsmen’s “Louis Louis” couldn’t bail them out. The Panthers were clearly at the helm of their own vessel–one that they would be steering toward Salem on Thursday.

Head Coach Pat Corrigan instructs the team in the waning minutes of the Panther victory over Bridgewater Monday. (Staff Photo)

The Eagles did make a run down the stretch, cutting the Panther lead to eight at the 1:34 mark, making it 72-64.

Then Bridgewater’s Jordan Cooper sank three free throws with :45 ticks left on the clock to bring the Eagles to within five, 67-72, but Oden stepped to the line with :37 seconds remaining and sank two from the stripe to put Ferrum up seven, 67-74.

The final punctuation for the Panthers came when the Eagles missed a three-pointer with :27 seconds left on their season. Johnson snagged the rebound and fed it to Randolph who threw down a two-handed dunk to give Ferrum its final points, the 76-67 victory, and a trip to Salem.

The Ferrum Faithful’s cheers reverberated through the gym in response, and the Eagle fans began silently exiting.

On the night, three Panthers combined for 60 of the team’s 76 points. Wall had 19, Johnson had 21, and Oden had 20. Washington tossed in six points and also had two blocks. Randolph recorded eight points on the evening, had two assists, and three steals.

Darwin Randolph, junior, puts the proverbial nail in the coffin against Bridgewater Monday night with a dunk that helped keep the Panther dream alive. (Staff Photo)

Ferrum shot 45.9% from the floor, compared with Bridgewater’s 36.7%.

Moreover, the Panthers went 6-17 for 35.3% from three-point land, and the Eagles were 12-33 for 36.4%.

Bridgewater out rebounded Ferrum 37-34, but the Panthers won the free throw battle, going 14-16 from the charity stripe for an 87.5% average, while the Eagles went 11-15 from the line for 73.3%.

The Panthers will play Hampden-Sydney College at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Salem Civic Center in the quarter finals of the ODAC Tournament.


Post-game–the bus is a celebration. Players mug for photos, they breathe in the win, and they revel in the taste of sweet revenge–as well as the taste of the Domino’s Pizza flowing freely about. The smell of sweat and the scent of pepperoni compete for top honors.

The team celebrates on the bus after knocking off Bridgewater in the first round of the ODAC tournament. (Staff Photo)

Assistant Coach Dan Milloy is rifling through the photos that the Iron Blade shot during the game, already putting together promo pieces for the program. Corrigan is on his phone, watching the film from the night’s contest.

Oden takes a moment to reflect on what became a turning point in the game: During the first half, the game seemed like it could slip away. He called the players to the top of the key during a foul shot and could be heard cross-court trying to motivate the players: “C’mon!” he yelled. “It’s the playoffs!!”

“I understand that I’m one of the older guys on the team,” the senior says about that moment. “Everybody is looking at me to be the leader. So it just kind of happened. I just took responsibility and ran with it and. Just took full advantage. Honestly, I felt like we weren’t playing hard enough. I was just trying to get us going a little bit. I think I got a good response.”

He also talks for a moment about his head space coming up the road for the game. It never entered his mind that it could be his last game in a Panther uniform–or his last bus ride with the team.

“Absolutely not,” he says. “They beat us twice, but I understood that we beat ourselves. In a lot of the games this season that we lost, I feel like we beat ourselves. Especially coming off the Shenandoah game (last Saturday) where we played pretty much our best basketball all season, I was pretty confident coming in that we were going to do the same thing.”

Even though Oden tallied 20 points, he isn’t thrilled that he took 16 shots to do so. His focus is more on the shots he missed than what he made.

“I didn’t realize I shot that bad,” he says. “I honestly didn’t realize I shot that bad (6-16).”

From the seat in front Corrigan calls out to him:

“You made two big free throws, though,” he says.

Corrigan is referring to the two foul shots Oden made with :37 left to ice the game for the Panthers. It was a moment when the entire gym–save for the Panther Nation–were on their feet–banging, stomping, shouting, and using about any means to distract. Oden calmly stripped the nets on both of them.

“When I go to the free throw line, I don’t hear anything,” he says, and quickly changes the subject to his on-court partners. “I just want to give a shout out to my teammates. They played a hell of a game, too. It wasn’t just me. It was everybody. B-Wall and Jikari had almost 20 points a piece, too. Everybody played a part. Darwin had some big shots. Calvin had a block at the end of the game–I’m just proud of everybody and appreciate everybody.”

Oden heads back to his seat, and Washington strolls up front for a bit. He sits and reflects on the past couple hours.

“Going into the game, I felt good,” he says. “I felt like I got down at one point. We went through some adversity with some of the calls, and that’s expected, but I stayed level-headed and tried to do what I can for the team to get a dub.”

Washington’s face lights up, and he grins when mention is made of the the block he had with with 1:06 left in the game. He stuffed Bridgewater’s Alec Topper, and Topper, in turn, fouled Johnson on the loose ball. The play resulted in a Panther possession, and it prevented the Eagles from potentially cutting the lead to five or four, leaving Ferrum up by seven, 72-65.

“I just had to be there,” he says. “I knew that was going to be a big point in the game that would probably shift. We didn’t have that much time left, and I just wanted to be there for my guys and get a block.”

That “being there” is something Washington relishes and says he enjoys the responsibility.

“I feel like it’s a good weight to have,” he says. “I got some good guys on this team who are great players, and they look up to me to sort of do the little things and do exactly what I’m here to do. I’m just glad I was able to do that tonight.”

One of those guys Washington is talking about is Johnson, who has been the team’s leading scorer this season. For him, it’s about the mentality. He says he felt locked in and that the team needs to continue to find that groove.

“We need to stay locked in,” he says. “It’s easy to get one win and then get comfortable, but we have a tough opponent in Hampden-Sydney, and they’re going to be a tougher matchup, so we gotta be even more locked in.”

He says the team gelled well–they had their arms around each other in the huddles, united.

During a timeout, the team huddles, arms around each other in unity. (Staff Photo)

“We’ve been preaching about having a winning mentality, and to have a winning mentality, you have to grow together,” he says. “When you grow together you have to stick together and pick up your brother. That was our main focus coming in–staying together and winning together and having that mentality.”

Johnson heads back to the rear of the bus and hands the interview baton to Wall, who, at 6’7″ almost has to fold himself to get in the seat. Wall has no idea he had 19 points–his focus is on what the team did.

“We came into this game fully prepared,” he says. “After the two losses (to Bridgewater in the regular season) we bounced back, and we studied a lot of game tape and watched a lot of film on them. We just wanted to work on the mistakes that we had in the last game. Everybody was just mentally locked in before the game.”

Wall says they used the game last Saturday against Shenandoah to ready themselves for Bridgewater.

“We needed that game,” he says. “We kind of needed that game as a game to build momentum for the tournament.”

Wall is a transfer student from Guilford Tech, so even though he is a junior, this is his first year on the team.

“This group is very special,” he says. “We have a lot of players who can go out there and make a lot of plays at any given time, and I’m just happy to be part of a winning organization. It’s nice to be on a good team. We always tell each other that we got each other’s back, and that we’re brothers. This is one big family, and if something happens, we stay together and play with togetherness.”

Wall extricates himself from the seat, and the final starter for the game, Randolph, takes the interview chair. He reflects on two key three-pointers he had in the second half and the end-game dunk that sealed the deal for the Panthers.

“It’s my coaches and my teammates believing in me,” he says. “Practicing those end-game shots just so that it can translate. They gave me the confidence I have to shoot it.”

He says that emotions were flying at the end when his dunk with :21 left on the clock put Ferrum up nine.

“I saw Jikari Johnson–he’s the one who got the rebound–and he and I made eyes,” he says. “And previously, there was a moment in an earlier game where he didn’t pass it, so we made a deal that if I’m open, and I have a dunk opportunity, he’s going to throw it. As soon as we locked eyes, we knew that was a moment, so he threw it, and I just had to go throw one down.”

The conversation shifts to defense. Randolph leads the team in steals with 49 on the season.

“As a young kid, often times, the way I could get into the game was playing defense,” he says. “That defensive tenacity has been kind of like a calling card for me. When my shots aren’t falling or some things aren’t going well, that’s something that I know I can control–my effort on defense. Especially games like these where it’s higher stakes, I need to make sure I’m locked in on the things I can control, and defense is always one of them.”

The interviews conclude.

The bus is now about as quiet as it was on the ride up. Heads nod–not from music as much as from fatigue, and the notion of sleep is ever-more enticing.

It’s now almost 11:30 p.m. The bus rolls into Roanoke to drop off Corrigan. He stands and addresses the team.

“Good job tonight,” he says. “I want everybody to go to class tomorrow.”

He exits, and the bus and team begin the final leg back to Ferrum. Through Boones Mill. Through Rocky Mount, which seems deserted, stop lights on flashing mode as the town has rolled up for the night. The last 10 miles of twisty road work to rock some to sleep as midnight creeps and the bus shifts from side to side around each curve.

Just after midnight, the team pulls in behind Swartz Gym, and the players file off one by one, reversing the ritual from earlier in the day. Some grab left over pizza and sleepily trudge to their waiting cars and dorms. It’s already the next day, time to start prepping for Hampden-Sydney.

Milloy and Dorfman scan the bus for remnants and anything left behind–and then they, too, head out.

Milloy first.

Dorfman is always the last one to get off the bus.








Leave a Comment
Donate to Iron Blade

Your donation will support the student journalists of Ferrum College. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to Iron Blade

Comments (0)

All Iron Blade Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *