SoCon Hoops Update: Final week of 2021 means league play is on the horizon

Dec. 20, 2021

Though it wasn’t a full slate of action over the weekend, there were some entertaining inter-conference mid-major clashes on Saturday around the league.

Below are recaps of Saturday’s and Sunday’s games, along with some intriguing league and team notes, as well as a non-scientific, though educated guess at the league’s power rankings heading into league play.

UNC Asheville 79, East Tennessee State 64

UNC Asheville gained its second Southern Conference win in a week and third of the season, with an impressive 79-64 win over perennial SoCon power East Tennessee State Saturday afternoon at Kimmel Arena.

The win saw the Bulldogs improve to 7-5 overall, while the Bucs dropped to 7-5 on the season with their second-straight defeat at the hands of a Big South foe. The Bulldogs got a career-high 27 points and seven boards from University of Tennessee transfer Drew Pember, as the Bulldogs connected on 50% (25-of-50) of their shots from the field in the victory.

Pember finished the evening by connecting on 10-of-15 shots from the field, which included going 4-for-8 from three-point range. Pember also added seven rebounds and posted four blocks, while dishing out a pair of assists in helping lead the surging Bulldogs to their second win in their past three games, and helped the Bulldogs rebound from a 79-68 road loss at UT-Martin last Tuesday night.

Pember was one of four Bulldogs in double figures for the game, as Taijon Jones (17 pts), Trent Stephany (13 pts) and Coty Jude (12 pts) rounded out Asheville’s double-figure scorers in the contest. Jude’s 12 points all came on three-pointers, as he became just the fifth player in program history to connect on 200 or more three-pointers in a career. He currently ranks second all-time in program history, needing 10 more to set a new program mark.

The Bucs were paced in the contest by Ty Brewer, who went 11-for-14 from the field, while also snagging seven rebounds. Brewer was joined in double figures in the contest by Jordan King, who added 13 points, while brother LeDarrius Brewer added a double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds in the loss.

The loss marked the second-straight for the Bucs to a Big South club, having also dropped a 69-67 decision to North Carolina A&T last week.

UNC Asheville was able to get off to a strong start and never looked back in getting the win, and the Bulldogs shot 50% from the field, while limiting the Bucs to 45% (27-of-60) from the field for the game. The Bulldogs were able to take a 15-2 lead and assert their control of the game from the outset, The Bulldogs saw a 14-point, 36-21, lead at the break trimmed to nine, at 36-27, after the Bucs scored the final six points of the half.

In the second half, the Bucs made an early run at Asheville, scoring eight of the first 11 points of the half to cut the Bulldogs lead to 39-35. However, that would be as close as ETSU would get the rest of the way, as the Bulldogs responded with an 8-0 run to push the lead back to 12, at 47-35, and weren’t ever really threatened again.

For the game, the Bucs struggled from beyond the arc, connecting on just 4-of-20 (20%) from beyond the arc in the first half, while the Bulldogs finished the game connecting on 13-of-31 (41.9%) from long range for the game.

Tevin Brown/photo courtesy of Murray State athletics

Murray State 87, Chattanooga 76

For the second-straight road game, Chattanooga faced one of the top two teams perennially in the Ohio Valley Conference, and for the second-straight game, suffered a road defeat.

Following a 76-68 setback at Belmont last Wednesday night, the Mocs found themselves on the road and locked in a battle with the Murray State Racers on Saturday night, as the Racers overcame a 37-34 halftime deficit to come away with an 87-76 win inside the CSFB Center on Saturday evening.

The win saw Murray State improve to 10-1 overall, while Chattanooga fell to 9-3.

The Racers, which have already knocked off Memphis this season and a team which suffered their lone loss at the hands of a Southern Conference team, in ETSU in the Naples Invitational, claimed their 22nd-straight non-conference home win by outscoring the Mocs, 53-39, in the second half, surviving what was a career night for Malachi Smith, who scored 36 points, countering that by seeing Tevin Brown post a career night of his own, as he posted 33 points to fuel the Racers’ second-half surge.

The game between the Racers and Mocs was one between a pair of teams that were ranked in the Top 50 in NCAA’s NET rankings coming into Saturday night’s clash.

The game was close for much of the night, and with the game tied, 57-57, with just under 10 minutes remaining, the Racers took the lead for good with 9:35 remaining, as his triple gave the Racers a 60-58 lead following a three-pointer by Brown. From there, the Racers proceeded to take control of the game game down the stretch, with a 13-2 run to take the lead to double digits, at 80-68, with 1:46 remaining.

Malachi Smith was sensational in defeat, posting his eighth-straight 20-point night at the office, as he posted a game-high 36 on 14-of-17 shooting from the field and 1-of-2 from beyond the arc. He was also a perfect 7-for-7 from the line. The only other Mocs player in double figures in the contest was David Jean-Baptiste, who finished with 12 points, as the Mocs finished the night shooting the ball at a 50% (29-of-58) clip. Murray State connected on 48.4% (31-of-64) from the field for the game.

Along with Tevin Brown’s career-high 33 points, the Racers had two others finish in double figures, with Justice Hill adding 18 and Trae Hannibal finished with 11. Brown finished the night connecting on 11-of-22 shots from the field, while going 7-of-14 from three-point land. Murray State held a slight 34-31 advantage on the glass.

Chattanooga returns to the floor Wednesday night facing Middle Tennessee State at McKenzie Arena in its final non-conference game. Tip-off is slated for 7 p.m.

Wofford 76, Presbyterian 49

In the most lopsided game of the weekend, Wofford handed Presbyterian a 76-49 setback Saturday afternoon, as the Blue Hose were rendered helpless against the Terriers shot 76.2% from the field in the second half, including its final 13 shots from the field en route to a 27-point win on the road at the Templeton Center in Clinton.

The win saw the Terriers improve to 8-4 heading into their final non-conference test at Duquesne next week, while Presbyterian fell to 7-6 prior to its final non-league test at Furman next week.

With its 76% effort from the field in the second half, the Terriers ended up finishing the contest shooting a blistering 55.0% (27-of-49) from the field. In the second half alone, the Terriers were able to connect on a total of 16-of-21 shots alone in second half, and from three-point land, the Terriers canned 48% (12-of-25), which included connecting on 9-of-12 triples for a 75% clip in the second half alone.

Meanwhile, as good of a night as it was shooting the basketball for the Terriers, it was equally as bad of an evening for the Blue Hose, who connected on just 37.5% (18-of-48) for the game, and connected on just 5.6%, or 1-for-18 from long range.

The Terriers had five in double figures, paced by Max Klesmit’s 21-point effort on 6-of-11 shooting from the field, which included a 4-for-7 effort from three. Sam Godwin went 4-for-6 from the field and 3-of-4 from the line to finish with 11 points. He also had a team-high six boards. Isaiah Bigelow added 14 points and had two of the team’s 10 steals in one of his best performances since coming back from a season-ending knee injury last season.

B.J. Mack and Austin Patterson also continued their strong play of late for the Terriers, posting 10 points apiece in the win.

PC was led by Rayshon Harris’ 15 points, while Trevon Reddish-Rhone added 13. With Wofford up 15-13 following a jumper by PC’s Marquis Barnett with 8:45 remaining in the opening half, the Terriers used an 11-0 over the next 3:30 of game clock to double up the Blue Hose, and were never really threatened the rest of the game.

Wofford took a 31-20 lead into the half, and after the Blue Hose threatened to get back into the game to get within 12 (54-42) with a little over eight minutes remaining, the Terriers closed out the game on a 22-7 run to leave no doubts.

The Terriers close out non-conference play with a tough test at Duquesne, while PC will be at Furman Tuesday night.

Samford guard Ques Glover/photo courtesy of Samford Athletics

Samford 85, Kennesaw State 84

Samford continued its strong play in non-conference action, and it has done so by winning close games.

On Saturday night in the friendly confines of the Pete Hanna Center, it was Florida transfer Ques Glover’s 22-foot jumper with six seconds remaining to help the Bulldogs to a narrow 85-84 game-winning jumper with six seconds left, which helped seal Samford’s third-straight win and their seventh triumph in their last eight games.

Like Wofford, Samford shot the ball extremely well in the contest, connecting on a blistering 63.2% (36-of-57) and 61.1% (11-of-18) from three-point range, but it took every bit of that hot shooting night to overcome a Kennesaw State team that connected on 55.5% (30-of-53) from the field and 9-of-21 from three-point range in the win.

The Bulldogs were at full health for the first time all year, with both guard A.J. Staton McCray and forward Logan Dye making their first appearances of the season.

Kennesaw State came out firing early on in the contest, as the Owls connected on a pair of early triples and opened the contest with an early 12-4 lead. But Samford would respond accordingly, and the Bulldogs would chip away at the Owls lead. Samford assumed its first lead of the contest midway through the first half with five-straight points on a three-pointer by Wesley Cardet Jr. and a Logan Dye jump-hook to take a 20-19 lead.

A strong 13-4 run powered by three triples, with two coming from Jaden Campbell and another from Loyola Chicago transfer Cooper Kaifes helped power Samford to a 35-27 lead with a little over five minutes remaining.

The Owls trimmed that lead in half over the final five minutes of the opening frame, as the Bulldogs went to the locker room with a 46-41 lead.

After the break, the Owls came out with a point to prove. It was a team that looked far from a program that had won a combined six games the previous two seasons, and one that hadn’t won but 13 in the previous three, as Kennesaw State wasn’t going away, trailing just 56-50 at the first media timeout of the second half.

The Owls certainly didn’t give the appearance of a team that had lost 48-straight road games dating back to the 2017-18 season. The Owls would eventually cut that six-point lead to two, at 58-56, on a fast-break dunk from Kasen Jennings with 13:37 remaining in the contest.

After a 7-0 run by the Bulldogs, which came on jumpers from Glover and Dye, as well as a Campbell three-pointer seemingly gave the home team a safe nine-point cushion, at 65-56 at the under 12 media timeout, it proved to be fools gold. By the next time the two teams gathered around their respective coaches for the under eight media, the Owls had trimmed the Bulldog lead by two, at 74-67, with 7:38 left.

That’s when KSU put the ultimate scare into Bucky McMillan’s ‘Dogs, mounting an 11-2 run to assume their first lead since the first half, as the Owls took a 79-78 lead on a Spencer Rodgers layup in transition with 3:31 remaining. Following a free throw by KSU, Glover came to life by knocking down back-to-back jumpers to give the Bulldogs an 82-80 lead with just over two minutes remaining.

On the other end, the Owls tied it on a pair of Terrell Burden foul shots before Glover was fouled and went to the line for two shots. After missing both, a lane violation whistled against the Owls gave him a third bite at the cherry. He didn’t pass up the opportunity, making the Owls pay for the miscue by knocking down the foul shot, and more importantly, helping Samford to re-take the lead, 83-82.

However, a Samford foul by Jermaine Marshall sent the Owls Demond Robinson to the stripe for two foul shots on the other end with 33 seconds left, and he knocked down both to give Kennesaw State an 84-83 lead.

Basketball, however, can be cruel sometimes. It has been a lot, especially on the road, for Kennesaw State for the past three years. It was again, and this time it was Ques Glover delivering the dagger from 15 feet out as his jumper gave the Bulldogs an 85-84 lead with six seconds remaining.

KSU’s final layup attempt was no good, and the Bulldogs corralled the rebound and ran out the clock to send KSU to its 49th-straight defeat away from the Convocation Center.

Glover, who currently ranks third in the SoCon in scoring behind only UTC’s Malachi Smith and The Citadel’s Hayden Brown, led the Bulldogs with 22 points. He also had three assists and a rebound in helping the Bulldogs to their ninth win in 11 games to start the season.

Jaden Campbell, Logan Dye, and Quinn Richey all finished with 12 to round out the Bulldogs in double figures.

KSU’s Terrell Burden finished with a game-high 25 points on 7-of-12 shooting from the field, including 1-of-2 from three-point land. He also went 10-of-11 at the charity stripe. As a team, Samford struggled, making just 2-of-9 charity shots.

Samford will close out non-conference play with a trip to SEC member Ole Miss Tuesday, with tip-off set for 4 p.m.

Mercer guard Kamar Robertson/photo courtesy of Mercer athletics

Florida Gulf Coast 67, Mercer 55

Like Samford’s game with Kennesaw State on Saturday was a rivalry rekindled from nester-year in the old Trans-America Athletic Conference, the clash between Mercer and Florida Gulf Coast hearkened back to a time when the two enjoyed a pretty heated rivalry in the Atlantic Sun Conference.

In fact, in 2014, which was Mercer’s final season calling the A-Sun home as a league affiliation prior to joining the SoCon for the 2014-15 season, the Bears and Eagles met in Alico Arena–home of the top-seeded Eagles–in the 2014 A-Sun Tournament title game to decide the automatic bid qualifier for the NCAA Tournament. It would be the Langston Hall-led Bears that would help Mercer to the 68-60 upset win over FGCU, sending the Bears to the Big Dance.

In that tournament, who will ever forget the 14th-seeded Bears having their way against Duke in the opening game before losing to Tennessee in the round of 32. It was quite an exit from the A-Sun and entrance into the SoCon for the Bears.

Both programs have struggled to find that winning consistency the two enjoyed for about a five-year span as A-Sun rivals, but with Mercer’s run to the SoCon title game last season only to lose to UNCG, and FGCU’s resurgence this season, it set up for quite the matchup Sunday afternoon at Alico Arena, as the two battled in a meaningful late December non-conference clash.

In what was the first meeting between the Bears and Eagles since an 84-68 win in Macon two years ago, the Eagles claimed what was their fourth win in a row, and ended what had been a five-game winning streak for the Bears, with a 67-55 win over Mercer Sunday afternoon at Alico Arena.

The win saw the Eagles improve to 10-3 overall, while Mercer fell to 7-5 heading into its final non-conference test.

After seeing Mercer used a strong defensive effort to stymie the Eagles in the opening half of play, as the Bears took a 26-18 lead into the locker room, FGCU shook off the rust in the second half, exploding for 49 points on a 59.3% shooting effort, canning 19-of-32 shots from the field. Equally impressive was FGCU’s play on the defensive end, holding the Bears to just 33.3% (10-of-30) from the field and only 29 points en route to overturning the eight-point halftime deficit.

FGCU’s Tavian Dunn-Martin (Grad transfer from Duquesne) had a double-double, posting a game-high 20 points while dishing out 12 helpers, while Western Carolina grad transfer Matt Halvorsen–WCU’s all-time three-point leader–added 11 points, with nine coming from shots beyond the arc. Cyrus Lagie and Kevin Samuel–a grad transfer from Texas–rounded out the double figure scorers for the Eagles, with 15 and 11 points, respectively.

Mercer had a trio finish in double figures, with James Glisson III and Wake Forest grad transfer Jalen Johnson posting 19 and 18 points, respectively, while fifth-year senior Felipe Haase added 11.

The Bears will now close out non-conference play with a visit from Sun Belt member Troy on Tuesday night. Tip-off is set for 6 p.m. EST inside Hawkins Arena.

Noting The SoCon:

–One peek at the current NCAA three-point statistical information, and you’ll find that five of the top 30 teams in NCAA shooting the three ball come from the Southern Conference. VMI comes into Christmas week ranking second in the nation in three-pointers made (152), while Furman ranks fourth (141), and the third SoCon team to rank in the Top 10 is Western Carolina at ninth (129). Wofford and Samford are tied for 28th nationally (113). The Citadel (106), which has only played nine games so far, gives the SoCon six teams in the Top 50 in threes made, ranking tied for 49th with Clemson.

–Furman tops the SoCon and ranks 14th nationally in three-point field goal percentage (39.5%) and are the only SoCon team to rank in the top 50 nationally in three-point field goal percentage.

–Through 12 games, Furman has canned 141 three-pointers, and are on pace to eclipse the school’s record mark of 338 established during the 2017-18 and 2018-19 teams, respectively, as the Paladins connected on 338 triples in back-to-back campaigns. With a guaranteed 20 more games remaining barring any pauses due to COVID-19, the Paladins current pace would have them knocking down 353 three-pointers for the season at this same pace.

–SoCon leading scorer Malachi Smith, who is coming off a career-high 36-point effort in the loss at Murray State, has scored 20 or more points in eight-straight games for the Mocs.

–For the second-straight season, Wofford has lost a key contributor to a season-ending injury. Last season, the Terriers saw Isaiah Bigelow go down with a season-ending knee injury prior to the start of the season, while this season, forward Messiah Jones ruptured his achilles tendon in a win over Georgia Southern. However, the Terriers have seen others step up, namely Austin Patterson and B.J. Mack, who have given the Terriers a significant boost as of late. In fact, I would venture to say that Mack might be the most improved big man in the SoCon this season. Mack is averaging roughly seven more points and two more rebounds per game this season, He’s also shooting the ball better, hitting 52.2% from the field, and is shooting 40% (10-of-25) from three through the first 12 games.

–Western. Carolina has been solid under first-year head coach Justin Gray, and the Catamounts will look to notch the SoCon’s fifth win against a power five foe this season when they face the Georgia Bulldogs, who have already lost to Wofford a couple of weeks ago. Monday night’s game against the Bulldogs will mark the first meeting between the Catamounts and Bulldogs since the 2019-20 season-opener in a game in which the Catamounts were competitive before losing to a Georgia team, which had the highest rated recruit in the nation, in Anthony Edwards. The Catamounts could guarantee themselves a winning record in non-conference play should they gain at least a split in their final two non-conference games against both the Bulldogs and at Georgia on Dec. 22.

–Furman has had three different players score 30 or more points in a game this season, with all three seniors having done so. Senior guard Mike Bothwell went for 30 points in Furman’s 80-72 win at Louisville, while Jalen Slawson posted a 33-point, 13-rebound effort in a come-from-behind win over College of Charleston. Slawson followed that up with the first triple-double in program history, with 15 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds in an 85-80 loss at Winthrop. The final 30-point scorer was Alex Hunter, who at times in the 69-66 setback at Mississippi State, single-handedly kept the Paladins in the game in a contest they trailed by as many 18 points in the opening half of play, as he posted a career-best 30 points, which included 24 of those points on eight triples. The talented senior trio is currently averaging a combined 49.4 of Furman’s 80.5 PPG heading into the final non-conference game against Presbyterian Tuesday night.

–As of Friday, the SoCon was one of three leagues out of 32 NCAA Division I basketball conferences to have all of its teams with above .500 overall records in non-conference games.

–The latest NET rankings have Chattanooga sporting an impressive No. 43 ranking following Saturday night’s loss at Murray State. Wofford rose 25 spots to No. 73 following their impressive win at PC. Furman ranks third in the league in the NET rankings, dropping from 115 to 117 since Friday’s loss to Mississippi State. The Citadel currently ranks 130th in the NET, while following its consecutive losses to North Carolina A&T and UNC Asheville, East Tennessee State fell from 117 to 146 in the most recent NET rankings.

–Furman’s Alex Hunter currently ranks first nationally in three-pointers made (51), while his 50.5% (51-of-101) shooting clip from long range this season ranks ninth nationally. VMI’s Kamdyn Curfman ranks second nationally in triples made with 47 made threes heading into the week.

SoCon Power Rankings:

  1. Chattanooga (9-3)--Despite back-to-back losses on the road at Murray State and Belmont, the Mocs remain the team to beat in the SoCon because of how good they have been defensively so far this season.
  2. Wofford (8-4)--Jay McAuley’s Terriers are off to a solid start, and the strong play from Max Klesmit and B.J. Mack out of the gate have more than been enough to off-set the departure of star point guard Storm Murphy, who is currently starting for Mike Young’s Virginia Tech Hokies.
  3. Furman (7-5)–Furman is by far the best team offensively in the SoCon, however, unless they get better defensively, it will be another “close but not quite” season for Bob Richey’s talented Paladins. That said, Furman has gone out and challenged themselves in the non-conference, as many of the league’s better teams have…That has to be applauded and it will pay off when it matters.
  4. East Tennessee State (7-5)–In terms of talent, you will have to go a long way to find a more talented collective starting five than the one the Bucs put on the floor night-in and night-out, however, depth and shooting, particularly from long range, have been a couple of things that have played the Bucs this season. The loss of big man Silas Adheke, who left the team for family reasons, could have at a worse time.
  5. Mercer (7-5)–The Bears have played a sneaky tough schedule, and after an awkward 2-4 start to the season, the Bears have rallied to win five of their last six, including maybe their most impressive win over Sun Belt title contender Coastal Carolina recently. The loss off of all-conference point guard Neftali Alvarez could be detrimental, but it is not known how long he will be out. Until then, the Bears have good depth and reliable veterans like Jalen Johnson and Kamar Robertson in the backcourt to help shoulder the load.
  6. The Citadel (6-3)–The Bulldogs have the league’s preseason player of the year, in Hayden Brown, and he’s playing like it. The Bulldogs sport that 15-point win at Pitt as one of the league’s most impressive non-conference win. The Bulldogs return to action tonight against SC State at McAlister Field House.
  7. UNC Greensboro (8-4)–It’s kinda weird to be ranking the Spartans this low in the power rankings, especially considering this is the defending champs. However, now that Keyshaun Langley has returned to join his brother Kobe Langley, who has seen his game soar this season, I expect the additions of D’Monte Buckingham and Dante Treacy to eventually stamp out the offensive inconsistencies once and for all. And we all know the Spartans haven’t forgotten how to defend and rebound under first-year head coach Mike Jones.
  8. VMI (7-5)--It feels equally as strange to rank VMI No. 8, and the Keydets have been playing really good basketball this month. It helps to off-set some subpar performances in losses to PC (2) and Marist in the opening month of the season. The Keydets in all honesty should have beaten Wake Forest….At least they played well enough to do so…But with Tuesday’s game vs. with Hampton due to COVID-19 concerns within Hampton’s program, the Keydets will now have a 15-day layoff until beginning SoCon play on Dec. 29 at Wofford.
  9. Samford (9-2)–I like what the Bulldogs are doing under second year head coach Bucky McMillan, and where I have them ranked now isn’t indicative of what I think of them talent-wise. They have enough of that to compete with anyone, but this is still a young team learning how to win. Samford will battle Ole Miss on the road Tuesday night until an eight-day break prior to opening league play on Dec. 29 at Furman.
  10. Western Carolina (6-5)–The Catamounts round out the SoCon power poll, but what first-year head coach Justin Gray has done to this point, given the massive roster turnover is nothing short of remarkable. He has two more opportunities to prove just how good the Catamounts can be in his first year, with tests coming up against Georgia and Charlotte on the road this week before beginning SoCon play on Dec. 29 at the Ramsey Center against defending champion UNCG.

This Week’s Schedule:

Dec. 19 (Sunday)

Mercer at Florida Gulf Coast, 2 p.m.

Dec. 20 (Monday)

South Carolina State at The Citadel, 5 p.m. (The Citadel Classic)

Western Carolina at Georgia, 7 p.m.

Dec. 21 (Tuesday)

Samford at Mississippi, 4 p.m. Manhattan at The Citadel, 7 p.m.

(The Citadel Classic)

Presbyterian at Furman, 7 p.m.

Johnson & Wales at UNCG, 7 p.m. (Fleming Gym)

Dec. 22 (Wednesday)

Western Carolina at Charlotte, 5 p.m. EST

Troy at Mercer, 6 p.m. EST

Wofford at Duquesne, 7 p.m.

ETSU at Georgia, 7 p.m.

Published by soconjohn

I am a lover of all things SoCon, and I have had a passion to write about, follow and tell the world about this great conference for pretty much my entire life. While I do love the SoCon, and live in the SoCon city, which is home to the Furman Paladins, have a passion for sports in general, with college football and college hoops topping the list.

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