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VSU Chasing Breakthrough Against VUU
By JACOB VAUGHAN, Sports Editor
Jan 19, 2013, 16:54

Virginia State University junior Christopher Grier (left) tries to take a Shaw defender off the dribble during a CIAA game on Jan. 7 in Ettrick. VSU will look to end a 23-game losing streak to arch-rival Virginia Union on Sunday in Richmond (photo by David Breidenbach).

ETTRICK – A baseline three-point attempt left the hands of Virginia State University forward Kenny Mitchell, clipped the lip of the rim, dawdled for a moment inside the cylinder and bounced out.

The near miss came at the buzzer of a game against Virginia Union last January. By the time the ball reached the Richmond Coliseum floor, the Panthers were celebrating a 63-61 victory over their rivals from Ettrick.

The loss was VSU’s 23rd in a row at the hands of VUU.

“It was heartbreaking,” VSU senior Mike Bynum said on Thursday. “[The game-winning shot] went in and out. My eyes got high, then they got low.”

The CIAA Northern Division foes will renew their rivalry for
Virginia State University senior Mike Bynum is averaging 10.9 points per game (photo by Jacob Vaughan).
the first time this season on Sunday as part of the Freedom Classic, an annual festival that pays homage to Martin Luther King, Jr.

Like the man for whom the event is staged, the Trojans have a dream. Specifically, they have ambitions of restoring competitive balance to the increasingly one-sided rivalry.

In a broader context, VSU hopes to improve its standing in the division. Sunday’s clash will be the first of 10 consecutive divisional outings for the Trojans.

“That’s why it’s so important,” said VSU coach Darryl Jacobs. “It starts divisional play and it happens to be our rival. It’s a very significant game because it’s against a team we haven’t beaten in 11 years.”

Recent history notwithstanding, current form seems to favor VSU. VUU, a perennial powerhouse in the Division II conference, has had the look of a team in rebuilding mode so far this season.

The Panthers will limp into the contest with a 3-10 overall record, 1-5 in conference play. By contrast, the Trojans are 7-8 (2-4 CIAA). But the on-paper advantage carries no weight with Bynum, a four-year starter at point guard.

“The records don’t really mean anything,” he said. “Because both teams are going to bring it.”

Still, Bynum said this year’s VSU squad is excited about the prospect of notching the program’s first win over VUU since the early years of the Bush administration.

“I want to get one or two [wins over VUU] before I leave,” Bynum said. “This is a very good opportunity.”

If they are going to put an end to the much-ballyhooed winless skid, however, the Trojans will have to do so without the services of two of their top shooters. Christopher Grier and Khalil Tate – two of four VSU players who average double-figure points per game – will miss the matchup, as will freshman Jhamir White.

Grier was averaging 10.1 points per contest before sustaining a broken jaw in a road loss to Livingstone on Monday. Tate (11.8 ppg) has been out of the lineup since late November.

“We’re battling injuries,” Jacobs said. “So some other guys have to step up.”

Mitchell (14.5 ppg) and Bynum (10.9 ppg) will likely be asked to shoulder the lion’s share of the scoring burden. In an attempt to compensate for his short-handed offense, Jacobs spent the week stressing to his team the importance of defense and rebounding.

Aside from those two facets of the game, the second-year coach said he believes the squad that summons the most energy will likely emerge victorious.

“We have to outwork them,” Jacobs said. “Anytime you play a rival, your records go out the window. It comes down to who wants it the most.”

Should the Trojans be able to clear Sunday’s hurdle, Bynum said he thinks the team could use the long-awaited result as a springboard to accomplish its big-picture goals.

“If we start off 1-0 in the Northern Division, we can go undefeated,” Bynum said. “I believe.”

Jacobs agreed that the showdown will set the tone for the remainder of the Trojans’ season, which he hopes will culminate with a run in the conference tournament.

“This is a very, very important basketball game on a lot of levels,” he said.

Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Richmond Coliseum.

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