Last Updated: Jan 8th, 2015 - 07:42:25

Jacobs' Ladder: VSU Ousted But Improving
By JACOB VAUGHAN, Sports Editor
Mar 1, 2013, 16:43

Virginia State University men's basketball coach Darryl Jacobs (background) looks on as senior Kenny Mitchell (25) attacks the basket during a game against Shaw on Jan. 7. The Trojans' season came to an end on Wednesday, but the team from Ettrick has improved in each of Jacobs' first two seasons (photo by David Breidenbach).

The Virginia State University men’s basketball team’s season came to an anticlimactic end on Wednesday with a 60-56 loss to Saint Augustine’s in the second round of the 68th annual Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association tournament in Charlotte, N.C.

The fourth-seeded Falcons led by as many as 15 in the first half and took a 51-41 lead with 6:05 remaining in the second. The fifth-ranked Trojans assembled a 14-4 run, however, and James Vann’s perfect trip to the foul line left the game knotted at 55-55 with 30 seconds left.

But Saint Augustine’s sophomore Jonathan Crawley – a Richmond native – notched a three-point play with eight seconds on the clock to quell the last-ditch rally.

“We started out kind of slow in the beginning,” said VSU point guard Mike Bynum. “But we made some adjustments and came back with some fire in the last six or seven minutes of the game.

“We just needed to make one or two more plays at the end and we would’ve won.”

VSU junior Christopher Grier led all scorers with 20 points while senior all-conference honoree Kenny Mitchell chipped in with 12. Crawley paced the Falcons with 12 points and Tyquan Stroman finished with 11.

Though their campaign ended, Bynum believes the Trojans are on the precipice of something special. The team’s gradual improvement under the leadership of second-year coach Darryl Jacobs continued this season.

VSU finished the year with a record of 13-15, five games better than last year’s overall mark and seven better than the Trojans’ 6-21 showing in 2011. The team from Ettrick claimed its first postseason victory since 2009 on Tuesday against Fayetteville State, and Bynum said the near-comeback on Wednesday was a testament to the squad’s never-say-die attitude.

“In the past, that probably would’ve been a blowout,” Bynum said. “This wasn’t really a bad loss because it showed that we’re capable of fighting. We fought Tuesday night then turned around and fought Wednesday night. It was a big step up from past years.”

Bynum would know more than anyone. The team’s only four-year starter has seen two coaches, one interim coach and his fair share of turbulence at VSU. With former coach George White at the helm, the Trojans stumbled to a combined record of 13-42 over Bynum’s first two years with the team. They were 21-34 in his last two.

“It’s changed a lot since my freshman year here,” Bynum said. “That first year was kind of hard. We had a new coach, and we took a lot of bad losses my first couple years. But these past two years have really been different.

“We’ve had some good wins, and we played some really good basketball.”

Bynum, who plans to join the Trojans’ coaching staff as a graduate assistant next year, attributed the steady improvement to the culture change that ensued when Jacobs arrived from Clark Atlanta University.

And the 5-foot-10 mainstay sees no reason why the upward trajectory won’t continue.

“I believe this program is going to see a championship soon,” Bynum said. “It has made great strides over the years.”

Five VSU players averaged double-figure points per game this season. Of that group, only Mitchell (13.5 points, 6.2 rebounds) and Bynum (10.1 points, 3 assists) are out of eligibility.

The junior trio of Khalil Tate, Grier and Allen Harris posted averages of 11.8, 11.4 and 10.2 points, respectively. VSU finished fifth out of six teams in the Northern Division but notched its first win over arch-rival Virginia Union in exactly 11 years on Jan. 20 at the Richmond Coliseum.

Bynum poured in a game-high 18 points in the milestone victory. He said he hopes to be remembered for laying the foundation for the team’s future success.

“This is just the beginning,” Bynum said. “We’re just the starters. I really believe there’s going to be a great run for Virginia State in the near future.”

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