It was the opening night of Southern Conference basketball, which has had already had some games to have to be postponed and rescheduled around the league as a result of the COVID-19 Omicron variant of the virus.
However, if the competitiveness from the first full slate of games is any indication as to how the rest of the year will go in the league, then we are in for a real treat going forward.
Mercer 83, Samford 80
Mercer was one of those teams in the SoCon still waiting to play its opening game of the Southern Conference slate. The Bulldogs opened league play without leading scorer Ques Glover at Furman, and paid for it in an 81-49 setback in Greenville.
With Glover back in the fold for the Bulldogs, they would play much better on the road in their second game of the New Year, however, the Bulldogs still couldn’t recapture the success of a 10-win non-conference slate, which included wins over Oregon State and Ole Miss, as the Bears posted an 83-80 win at Hawkins Arena on Faith and Family night.
The win saw the Bears improve to 8-6 overall and 1-0 in league action, while Samford fell to 10-4 overall and 0-2 in league play.
Between the Bulldogs and Bears, a total of five players scored 20 or more points in the game, with three accomplishing the feat for the visitor’s, while two did so for Mercer.
Jermaine Marshall (24 pts, 13 rebs), Ques Glover (23 pts), and Jaden Campbell were the lone three Samford Bulldogs in double figures in the game, while Mercer’s two with 20 or more points–Felipe Haase (24 pts) and Shannon Grant (23 pts)–were among four players in double digits.
The Bears and Bulldogs last faced each other last March in the second game of the opening day of the tournament in Asheville, and in that game, it was all Bears, as Mercer was able to take an 87-59 win in that particular contest. However, the two regular-season contests last season–both won by Mercer–both went to overtime.
When Mercer took a double-digit lead in the second half, it appeared Wednesday night’s mid-week clash might be going to follow the path of that opening round SoCon Tournament game last season, however, to its credit, Samford battled back.
The Bulldogs trailed 67-55 in the second half following a layup by Kamar Robertson with 6:37 remaining. However, over the next six minutes, Samford would continue to chip away at the Bears lead, using a 23-12 run to get within a point on a Glover foul shot, at 79-78, with just five seconds remaining.
After missing the second foul shot, the Bulldogs were forced to foul immediately, sending Haase to the line for a pair of foul shots. He knocked them both down to give Mercer the 81-78 lead.
Robertson then fouled Glover to prevent Samford from shooting a three, and Glover knocked down both free throws to get the Bears back to within a point, at 81-80, with two seconds remaining. Haase was with two seconds left, and he went to the line and knocked down both offerings to give Mercer a three-point edge once again.
The Bulldogs would get one final look at a three, but Cooper Kaifes’ effort was no good, and Mercer held on for SoCon victory No. 1 and victory No. 1 of 2022.
Mercer heads to Furman to play at Bon Secours Wellness Arena for a 4 p.m. tip-off Saturday in downtown Greenville, while Samford returns home to host Western Carolina in a 2 p.m. clash.
ETSU 80, VMI 79
East Tennessee was able to hold off a furious rally from VMI to get an 80-79 win over the Keydets in its SoCon home opener Wednesday night at Freedom Hall.
The win saw the Bucs improve their overall record to 9-6 overall and 1-1 in league play, while VMI fell to 9-6 overall and 2-1 in league play. The win marked ETSU’s 13th-straight win the series against the Keydets.
The two teams combined to shoot 80 threes in the contest, with the Bucs ending up making one more three, as ETSU knocked down a baker’s dozen, while VMI, which entered as one of the top perimeter shooting team’s in college basketball, finished the night with 12. The Keydets entered the contest averaging 12.8 made threes-per-game.
It did’t appear the game was going to be close at all in the opening half, and after VMI scored the five three points of the night, the Bucs would score 17 of the next 20 to take command of the game. The Keydets eventually found themselves down by 17 points (47-30) after connecting on just 4-of-23 long-range efforts in the opening 20 minutes.
For the first eight-and-a-half minutes of the second half, the Bucs maintained a firm grip on the game, leading by double-digits for most of that juncture. The Bucs were leading 61-50 only to see VMI to put together a run, scoring 13 of the next 15 points in the contest to tie the game, 63-63, with just under eight-and-a-half minutes remaining.
With just over eight minutes remaining, the Bucs got maybe their biggest shot of the night in response, as point guard David Sloan found Mohab Yasser on the other end for a three-pointer to give the Bucs the lead once again, at 66-63.
ETSU, though in a fight for the rest of the evening, never trailed the remainder of the contest. A Jordan King three-pointer with 3:20 remaining would give the Bucs a little breathing room, stretching their lead back to seven (76-69).
The Keydets had their chances to take the lead down the stretch, however, after cutting the Bucs lead to two, had the ball twice with an opportunity to do such,. However, VMI missed both of its three-point attempts, which would have been go-ahead triples, and could have seemingly changed the complexion of the game. A key Sloan layup with just under a minute remaining pushed the Bucs lead back to four, and ETSU was able to hold on for the one-point SoCon win.
The win marked the first SoCon of the Desmond Oliver era.
VMI’s Jake Stephens, who has won back-to-back Southern Conference Player of the Week honors, led all scorers with 29 points on 11-of-19 shooting from the field, including having gone 3-for-9 from three-point range. Stephens also added 15 rebounds and a pair of assists. It was the 11th-career double-double for Stephens.
Stephens was one of four Keydets in double figures in the contest, with Kamdyn Curfman (17 pts), Tanner Mans (13 pts), and Trey Bonham (10 pts) rounding out the double-figure scorers for the Keydets.
ETSU was paced by Sloan’s 20 points, while LeDarrius Brewer and Jordan King added 19 and 13 points, respectively.
ETSU hosts Wofford in a 4 p.m. contest Saturday afternoon at Freedom Hall, while VMI will host UNCG at Cameron Hall in a 1 p.m. tilt.
Chattanooga 75, Wofford 67
The two teams ranked highest in the NET rankings squared off Wednesday night in Spartanburg, and it was the SoCon preseason favorite Chattanooga Mocs, which remained unbeaten in league play, as the Mocs posted an impressive 75-67 win over Wofford at the Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium.
The win saw the Mocs improve to 12-3 overall and 2-0 in SoCon play, while Wofford fell to 8-6 overall and 0-2 in league action. It marks the first time Wofford has lost its first two SoCon games since the 2012-13 season.
Malachi Smith, David Jean-Baptiste and Darius Banks were a backcourt trio that were simply sensational the entire night for the Mocs, as the three players combined for 63 of the team’s 75 points in the road win. Smith led the way with 24 points, notching his ninth-straight game with 20 or more points.
The game was close throughout after it appeared the Mocs might take complete control of the contest from the outset, starting the game by scoring the first eight points of the night.
Wofford would find its game towards the middle portion of the opening half of play, taking a 30-23 lead following a Corey Tripp three-pointer with just over three minutes remaining in the opening half of play.
However, the Mocs would take all the momentum into the halftime locker room, using a 9-0 run over the final 3:30 to take a 32-30 lead to the break. Darius Banks finished off the half in style for the Mocs with a strong dunk to give the Mocs all the momentum heading to the locker room.
In the second half, once again Chattanooga started strong by scoring the first five points of the half to take a 37-30 lead, but Wofford would respond just as it had in the opening half to eventually take the lead. The Terriers would get the deficit to one a pair of times in the opening 10 minutes of the second half, with a jumper by Max Klesmit and a layup by Klesmit cutting the Mocs lead to one a couple of times, with the final time being at 44-43 with 11:25 remaining.
Though the game remained close for the remainder of the contest, the Terriers could never get closer than three points the rest of the way, with the last time being at 59-56 following a Godwin layup with 4:18 left.
Wofford was led in the contest by Max Klesmit, who finished with 22 points, five rebounds and dished out three assists, while Sam Godwin added 17 points and five boards, and B.J. Mack added 10.
Wofford heads to ETSU Saturday for a key 4 p.m. clash at Freedom Hall with the Bucs, while Chattanooga hosts The Citadel at 4 p.m.
Western Carolina 94, The Citadel 90 (OT)
In what was probably the game of the night, Western Carolina outlasted The Citadel, 94-90, In overtime Wednesday night at the Ramsey Center.
With the win, the Catamounts improved to 7-7 overall and 1-1 in SoCon play, while the Bulldogs’ record fell to 6-6 overall and 0-1 in league play.
In the Duggar Baucom reunion game, his former team defeated his current program for the second year in a row in a game that ended up in overtime. Like the Mercer-Samford game, this was also a featured attraction on the opening night of the 2021 Southern Conference Tournament, with The Citadel scoring a 100-86 win in the particular contest.
WCU found themselves trailing the contest, 73-68, with just under four minutes remaining, however, Tyler Harris, who posted his first-career double-double, got the Catamounts within three on a layup with 3:21 remaining. A little over a minute later, his three-pointer tied the contest, 73-73, with 2:19 left to play.
The Citadel’s sharp-shooting freshman guard Jason Roche answered on the other end with a three of his own to put the Bulldogs back on top.
A Nick Robinson three for the Catamounts would eventually tie the see-saw affair once again, 79-79, with 67 seconds remaining. It was all part of Robinson’s 19-point effort was part of a balanced scoring night, with five Catamounts finished in double figures.
The Citadel’s graduate transfer David Maynard, who finished with a career-night by scoring a career-best 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting from the field and 3-for-7 from three-point land, put the Bulldogs back on top on a layup with 41 seconds remaining, giving the Bulldogs an 81-79 lead. Maynard was one of six Bulldogs players in double figures for the game. Robinson’s jumper with 32 ticks left tied the score once again, 81-81.
After the Catamounts forced a Citadel shot-clock violation on the Bulldogs next possession, Western Carolina had a chance to pull off the win, however, Robinson’s three-point attempt at the buzzer was no good, and the game went to overtime with the score tied, 81-81.
In the opening two minutes of the extra session, it Marcus Banks provided a brief two-possession lead, as his three swished with 3:02 remaining to give the Purple and Gold an 87-83 lead.
But the Bulldogs continued to fire those cannons with brazen efficiency from long range, as this time Rudy Fitzgibbons provided the answer with 1:53 left, as his bomb cut the Catamount lead back to one, 87-86.
Western would eventually extend the lead to five on free throws by Robinson and a layup by Marlow Gilmore, assuming a 91-86 lead with just 48 seconds left. The two teams traded 1-of-2 performances at the line on the next two possessions, leaving the Western Carolina with a 92-87 lead following Vonterrius Woolbright’s 1-for-2 effort with 23 seconds to play.
Things look good for Western. But Maynard didn’t want to go back to Charleston with a loss, and his triple with 12 seconds left cut it to two, as the ‘Dogs continued to make things tough on the Cats.
The Bulldogs were forced to foul Marvin Price on the ensuing possession with eight seconds remaining, and Price hit both foul shots to seal the 94-90 overtime win for the Catamounts.
Leading the five Catamounts in double figures in the contest was Robinson, who finished with 19 points. Marcus Banks added 18 points, while Vonterrius Woolbright completed his night with 17 points. Veteran Tyler Harris registered his first-career double-double, with 16 points and 11 boards, and Indiana State transfer Cam Bacote rounded out the Catamounts in double figures, as he finished with 12.
In addition to Maynard’s big night for the Bulldogs, The Citadel got a team-leading 19 points from Tyler Moffe, while fellow guard Rudy Fitzgibbons III added 15. Preseason SoCon Player of the Year Hayden Brown added 13 points and eight rebounds, while Jason Roche and Stephen Clark added 12 apiece. Clark also added six blocks and four boards.
The two teams combined to connect on 32 three-pointers in the contest, shooting a combined 79 of them. The Bulldogs knocked down 17 from long range, while the Catamounts fashioned 17 makes from the land of good and plenty.
Both teams return to action Saturday, with The Citadel traveling to face preseason SoCon favorite Chattanooga in a 4 p.m. contest in the Scenic City, while the Catamounts will be in Birmingham to face Samford in a 3 p.m. EST game.
Game Capsules for Jan. 8, 2022
UNCG (8-5, 0-1 SoCon) at VMI (9-6, 2-1 SoCon), 1 p.m.
–The first game of the day, should everything go according to schedule, will see defending champion UNC Greensboro look to rebound from a 58-54 loss to open league play Wednesday night against Furman head up to Lexington, VA, to take on the VMI Keydets.
The Keydets will also be looking to rebound from an 80-79 loss at East Tennessee State last Wednesday night. The Keydets have been tough to beat inside the friendly confines of Cameron Hall so far this season, as the Keydets are a perfect 5-0 at home this season, and enter the contest having won 17 of their past 18 games on their home floor.
It will mark the 30th all-time meeting between the Keydets and Spartans in a series, which began back in 1979. The Spartans hold a 20-9 all-time lead in the series, including having won nine of the past 10 meetings between the two in the series.
VMI’s Jake Stephens (18.0 PPG, 8.9 RPG) has been on a tear to start the 2021-22 season, garnering back-to-back SoCon Player of the Week accolades, as well as having garnered the SoCon’s December Player of the Month distinction. In the lost to East Tennessee State last time out, the senior big man contributed a double-double of 29 points and 15 rebounds.
Stephens has scored in double figures in all 15 games this season for the Keydets, and has five games of 20 or more points in a contest.
Another player that first-year UNCG head coach Mike Jones and the Spartans must be wary of is junior guard Kamdyn Curfman (18.0 PPG, 2.9 RPG), who has established himself as one of the top shooter’s in college basketball this season.
Like his teammate Stephens, Curfman has also scored in double figures in all 15 games, as well as having posted 20+ scoring performances this season. Curfman’s 59 triples this season ranks him second in the league behind only Furman’s Alex Hunter, who has knocked down 61.
UNCG doesn’t like to get up and down. They like to settle in and defend, and head coach Mike Jones’ club will try to make this game ugly. That’s how the Spartans put themselves in position to get a victory over Furman this past Wednesday night in the Gate City.
It’s why even after the graduation of a player as talented as Isaiah Miller, the Spartans will likely be a tough out for everyone in the league, as the Spartans enter the contest with the Keydets ranking second overall in the SoCon in scoring defense, yielding just 63.6 PPG.
As you might expect, that type defensive mindset hasn’t seen a lot of scoring individually, and the Spartans’ stats sheet probably won’t look as neatly distributed with double-figure scorers as some others might around the league.
The Spartans don’t really care, however, and defense will be what keeps Jones’ team in it most nights.Leading the way on the offensive end this season has been De’Monte Buckingham (13.5 PPG, 7.8 RPG).
The good news is if Buckingham needs some scoring help, it can be found, especially in dynamic guards Kobe Langley (6.4 PPG, 2.9 APG) and Keyshaun Langley (3.5 PPG, 1.8 APG).
UNCG enters the contest as the best rebounding team in the SoCon, and that showed Wednesday night, as the Spartans owned a +15 advantage on the boards in the loss to Furman. The Spartans currently are posting a +11.2 edge on the boards against foes this season.
Final Score prediction: VMI 77, UNCG 70
Western Carolina (7-7, 1-0 SoCon) at Samford (10-4, 0-2 SoCon), 3 p.m. EST
Samford will look to rebound from its heartbreaking loss on the SoCon road this past Wednesday night by capturing its first SoCon win of the 2021-22 season, when the Bulldogs host Western Carolina Saturday afternoon at the Pete Hanna Center.
The game between the Bulldogs and Catamounts will feature two of the better up-and-coming backcourts in the Southern Conference. The meeting between the Bulldogs and Catamounts will mark the 27th all-time clash between the two programs, with the Catamounts holding the narrow 14-12 lead in the all-time series.
The Bulldogs have one of the most dynamic scorers in the Southern in Ques Glover (19.6 PPG, 4.4 APG), who enters Saturday’s contest ranking second to only Chattanooga’s Malachi Smith in scoring. Glover’s 4.4 assists-per-game leads the SoCon.
Glover will team with one of the most talented young guards in the Southern Conference, in 6-6 wing Wesley Cardet Jr. (8.6 PPG, 4.2 RPG), and Loyola Chicago transfer Cooper Kaifes (6.5 PPG, 3.3 RPG). Samford forward Jermaine Marshall (12.6 PPG, 8.9 RPG) is coming off an outstanding effort in the loss at Mercer last time out, as he contributed a double-double with 24 points and 13 rebounds.
Western Carolina has its own talented guard to counter Glover with in the form of graduate transfer Nicholas Robinson (15.3, 7.4 RPG), who comes into the contest ranking 10th in the SoCon in scoring. Junior guard Vonterrius Woolbright (9.7 PPG, 4.4 APG) enters the matchup ranking second to only Samford’s Glover in assists-per-game.
In the front court, center Joe Petrakis (7.5 PPG, 3.2 RPG) has given the Catamounts a physical edge in the paint.
Both teams are almost entirely new and have good talent. This game could get into the high 70s and low 80s. I expect the Bulldogs to come away with their first Southern Conference win of the season.
Final Score Prediction: Samford 81, Western Carolina 77
Mercer (8-6, 1-0 SoCon) at Furman (10-6, 2-1 SoCon), 4 p.m.
For the first time since the 2020 season, which saw Furman play three of its home games in downtown Greenville at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena, will once again return to the facility to face Mercer in its fourth Southern Conference game of the season.
It will mark the first of three games the Paladins will play in the facility, as the Paladins will also face both UNC Greensboro (Feb. 5) and Wofford (Feb. 16) next month as a part of the “Weekends at the Well” series.
It’s a series that Furman successfully averaged nearly 6,000 fans in attendance in all three games against Winthrop, UNCG and Wofford during the 2019-2020 season, as the Paladins went 2-1 in games played in the facility.
Against Mercer, the Paladins have enjoyed plenty of success, dating back to the 2014-15 season, with Furman having won 12-straight over the Bears in the series.
The winning streak over the Bears by the Paladins actually started on a neutral floor, as the Paladins posted a 52-49 win in the SoCon semifinals in Asheville to advance to the Southern Conference title game. That proved to be a significant turning point victory for the program.
It will mark the 32nd all-time meeting between the Paladins and Bears, 21-10. Mercer got a hard-fought 83-80 win over Samford the last time out, while Furman had to hold off a gritty UNCG team to get a 58-54 win. With 99 wins in his fifth season as the head coach, Furman’s Bob Richey has a chance to notch his 100th victory as Furman’s head coach just a few days after enjoying another one of life’s milestone moments–the birth of his third child.
Furman is blessed with might be the top trio in any starting five in the Southern Conference, in seniors Mike Bothwell (15.4 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 2.8 APG) and Alex Hunter (16.4 PPG, 3.3 APG, 2.2 RPG) in the backcourt, while Jalen Slawson (15.8 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 4.0 APG, 2.1 SPG, 1.9 BPG) has been the fulcrum that has the Paladin offense working like a well-oiled machine most times.
Two of those three scored in double figures the last time out in the win at UNCG, with only four player’s scoring for the Paladins in the win over the defending champs Wednesday night. Marcus Foster II (7.1 PPG, 5.6 RPG) had one of his best performances of his career in a Paladin uniform, especially shooting from long range, connecting on a perfect 4-of-4 from long range.
The Paladins were without veteran Conley Garrison (8.6 PPG, 4.4 RPG) the last time out due to COVID-19, and there’s not been any definitive word on whether or not he will be available at the Well on Saturday.
Mercer might not have Neftali Alvarez, however, Greg Gary’s Bears have more than enough to be more than a headache and even spoil Furman’s return to its downtown venue on Saturday afternoon.
Felipe Haase (15.2 PPG, 5.6 RPG) is a similar assignment to that of Jake Stephens in terms of what must be done to guard him. Haase is one of the best shooting big men in mid-major hoops, and in an 88-85 overtime loss at Winthrop earlier this season, scoring 41 points in 41 minutes, accounting for the season-best scoring total for a single game for any SoCon player.
Haase is one three Bears averaging in double figures coming into Saturday’s contest, with Wake Forest transfer and wing guard Jalen Johnson (14.2 PPG, 5.3 RPG), while forward James Glisson III (11.2 PPG, 5.5 RPG) is enjoying his best season so far for the Bears.
Kamar Robertson (8.4 PPG, 4.5 RPG) has assumed the point guard duties in the absence of Alvarez, however, Johnson is also a good enough ball-handler to handle the responsibilities, and could cause matchup issues defensively for Furman with a size mis-match.
Wofford (8-6, 0-2 SoCon) at East Tennessee State (9-6, 1-1 SoCon), 4 p.m. EST
Wofford and East Tennessee State meet in what is a monumental Southern Conference battle for both Saturday afternoon in Johnson City. The Bucs got a much needed, confidence-building, 80-79, win over VMI last time out on the home floor, while Wofford dropped a 75-67 decision to preseason SoCon favorite Chattanooga in the friendly confines of Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium.
It marked the first 0-2 start to a conference game since the 2012-13 season, and for the Bucs, the win over the previously SoCon unbeaten Keydets could prove to be a major turning point for head coach Desmond Oliver’s Bucs, after ETSU lost its SoCon opener on the road by 30 to Chattanooga.
The Terriers and Bucs have at least one thing in common so far this season, and that is both sport wins over SEC member Georgia. The Terriers knocked off the Bulldogs, 68-65, in late November, while ETSU defeated the Bulldogs 86-84 just prior to the start of conference play.
An 0-3 start for Jay McAuley’s wouldn’t completely put the Terriers out of the regular-season conference title race, however, it would put them in a precarious situation for sure.
ETSU and Wofford will be meeting for the 55th time on Saturday afternoon in what will be the SoCon’s Nexstar Game of the Week. The Bucs hold a commanding 39-15 advantage in the all-time series, with the two teams splitting the meetings last season. The Bucs got a dominating 71-49 win in Johnson City in mid February last season. It came just 12 days following a 67-62 Terrier win in Spartanburg.
The series between the two has been close as of late, with each of the two teams winning five games in the last 10 games of this series. Ledarrius Brewer (12.3 PPG, 5.3 RPG) was outstanding for ETSU last season for the Bucs in the win in Johnson City, as he went for 30 on an impressive 11-of-14 shooting performance from the field, which included a 6-for-9 effort from three-point range.
The Bucs’ success this season usually coincides with a big performance against from point guard David Sloan (12.1 PPG, 4.3 APG). For many, Sloan is having the type season that some folks thought he might have last season when he arrived from Kansas State.
Similar to Wofford with its loss of Messiah Jones to a season-ending injury, East Tennessee State has also had to deal with its own significant loss in the paint, with Silas Adheke having decided to return to Nigeria to work to help support his family. It has affected the Bucs’ depth underneath the basket. Matt Nunez–a 6-10, 240-lb freshman project type player that Oliver had hoped to redshirt, ended up making his first appearance in the paint for the Bucs last time out.
Wofford has had to adjust to not having Jones for most of the season, and that has been notably a bigger loss for the Terriers, than Adheke was for ETSU. After all, Adheke wasn’t an all-conference performance. Given the fact that Jones had two of his best career performances against ETSU in previous seasons, it will be one less worry that the Bucs will have to deal with Saturday.
While Storm Murphy has been missed at point guard, the committee approach by the Terriers has been working so far. Ryan Larson (9.5 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 4.2 APG), who is now a junior, has really had to work to come into his own as one of the more complete point guards in the SoCon, but he’s done an admirable job of getting to that point.
No, he’s not Murphy, but he is a winner. He makes winning plays, and is an outstanding defender. Larson is that pest we’ve seen at other programs over the years. He’s that guy like former Purdue guard Bryan Cardinal, who did all the necessary things for his Boilermakers to win basketball games, whether that meant diving on the floor after a loose ball, or taking a charge.
Fellow backcourt mate Max Klesmit (16.0 PPG, 2.6 RPG) is having a breakout season for the Terriers, and he can score in a variety of different ways, including being a pretty effective perimeter threat, connecting on 35.5% (27-of-76) from three-point land this season. Klesmit has found himself in double figures in 11 of the 13 games he has seen action in this season for the Terriers.
In the paint, B.J. Mack (14.1 PPG, 5.1 RPG) and Sam Godwin (7.8 PPG, 4.4 RPG) have both stepped up their overall play and production underneath in the absence of Jones.
Final Score Prediction: ETSU 78, Wofford 74
The Citadel (6-6, 0-1 SoCon) at Chattanooga (12-3, 2-0 SoCon), 4 p.m.
Southern Conference preseason favorite Chattanooga will look to move to 3-0 in league play inside the friendly confines of McKenzie Arena, however, will have to do so against a tricky opponent, in Duggar Baucom’s The Citadel team, who has the potential to run any team out of the gym with the way the Bulldogs can shoot the three at times.
The meeting between the Mocs and Bulldogs will be meeting for the 88th time Saturday, with Chattanooga holding a commanding 68-19 all-time edge in the series, which includes a 37-6 all-time series edge in the Roundhouse.
The Mocs and Bulldogs split the two meetings last season, with The Citadel using a season SoCon scoring high of 37 points to claim a 92-87 win in Charleston last season, while the Mocs returned the favor in mid-February, with a 70-66 win at the Roundhouse. The Mocs have claimed seven wins in the last 10 games in the series.
Malachi Smith (20.4 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 3.7 APG) continued his outstanding play as of late the last time out on the floor for the Mocs, as he posted a game-high 24 points in the road win at Wofford, marking his ninth-consecutive game with 20 or more points. Smith continues to lead the Southern Conference in scoring average this season, as he is posting 20.4 PPG.
The game-high 24 points against the Terriers, however, wasn’t the only area which Smith was able to impact the game, as he also was able to do so on the boards (5 rebs), as a facilitator (3 assists) and on the defensive end (3 steals).
Smith teams teams with sixth-year guard David Jean-Baptiste (14.5 PPG, 2.5 APG) and Darius Banks (7.1 PPG, 4.8 RPG), as the trio accounts to make up arguably one of the top backcourts in all of mid-major basketball.
Expected to make his return underneath the basket after sitting out the game at Wofford will Kansas impact transfer Silvio DeSousa (12.5 PPG, 6.8 RPG), who might be the biggest reason many feel that the Mocs will live up to those lofty preseason expectations by both the coaches and media. DeSousa’s 58.9 FG% continues to lead the league this season.
The Bulldogs, who come into the matchup averaging a league-best 82.6 PPG, have the preseason SoCon Player of the Year, in Hayden Brown (19.5 PPG, 8.0 RPG), and a guard in Jason Roche (14.0 PPG, 4.3 RPG), that could very well end the campaign as the league’s Freshman of the Year. Through the first 12 games this season, Roche has knocked down 46 long-range efforts, averaging nearly four made triples per game (3.8).
Roche is following in a long line of great Bulldogs shooters, which includes the likes of Noy Castillo, Zach Urbanus, Travis Cantrell and Cameron Wells just to name a few. Should Roche stay in Charleston all four years, he has a chance to launch his own assault on the school’s all-time long-range shooting records.
Stephen Clark (9.6 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 2.7 BPG) continues to be a rim protector for the Bulldogs this season, and his six blocks in the last outing at Western Carolina were among the best defensive performances in school history. He’ll have his hands full with the Mocs big front line, which includes the aforementioned DeSousa, as well as 6-10 UCF transfer Avery Diggs (4.9 PPG, 2.6 RPG).
While I think this game will be close for awhile, I also think its the game that also ends up resulting in a double-digit margin of victory.
It probably comes as little shock to most that the Bulldogs lead the SoCon in threes made in league games after canning 17 triples in an overtime loss at Western Carolina last time out. As a whole, in 12 games to this point in the season, the Bulldogs have connected on a total of 136 treys, averaging 11.3 made threes per contest.
Final Score Prediction: Chattanooga 77, The Citadel 63