SoCon Hoops 2021-22: Jan. 8 roundup and power rankings

David Jean-Baptiste/photo courtesy of UTC athletics

The second full slate of Southern Conference basketball is in the books, and while the opening Wednesday night of games with a full schedule around the league saw most of them close, hotly-contested games, the second full slate of basketball games saw double-digit margin outcomes in all of the league battles. Here’s a quick recap of each. 

UNCG 72, VMI 56

UNCG evened its Southern Conference record at 1-1, as the Spartans used a strong defense and went on the road to capture a 72-56 win over the VMI Keydets Saturday afternoon at Cameron Hall. The win saw the Spartans improve to 9-5 overall and 1-1 in league action, while VMI for the second-straight game. It was the beginning of a tough stretch for UNCG that will feature four games in the next seven days. VMI fell to 9-7 overall and 2-2 in league play. 

The Spartans rode the strong performance of Kobe Langley, who posted a team-high 18 points, which included a career-best four three-pointers and that accounted for 12 of those points. He also posted a career-best six rebounds, three steals and dished out three assists. Kaleb Hunter came off the bench to add 15 points, and leading scorer De’Monte Buckingham just missed a double-double with 12 points and nine boards. Bas Leyte rounded out the double-figure scorers with 11 points and five rebounds. 

The Spartans held a double-digit lead for most of the second half, and went to the locker room for the halftime intermission with a 36-25 advantage. The Keydets would seemingly get back into the game with mini run to cut UNCG’s lead to seven (49-42) following a Kamdyn Curfman three-pointer with 11:16 remaining. However, from there, the Spartans resumed business as usual by getting a 9-0 run to stretch the lead back out to 16, at 58-42, following a Bas Leyte layup to quell any thoughts of a VMI comeback on its home floor. The Keydets could never get within double digits the remainder of the contest.

VMI finished with two players in double figures, as Jake Stephens and Kamdyn Curfman accounted for 48 of the team’s 52 points in the game, with Stephens adding his sixth 20-point scoring effort of the season, finishing with 22, while Curfman added 16.Curfman completed a double-double effort for VMI by also adding 10 rebounds. 

The Spartans would end up holding the Keydets to a meager 34.6% (18-of-52) shooting from the field, including just 27.8% (10-of-36) from three-point range. UNCG returns to action Monday night, hosting Wofford at the Greensboro Coliseum in a tip-off set for 7 p.m. The Keydets return to action Thursday, traveling to meet Mercer in Macon.

Wofford 68, East Tennessee State 57

Wofford captured its first Southern Conference win of the season, as the Terriers went on the road to capture what was a 68-57 win over East Tennessee State at Freedom Hall. The win saw the Terriers improve their record to 9-6 overall and 1-2 in league action, while ETSU fell to 9-7 overall and 1-2 in league action.

B.J. Mack put in a strong afternoon of work, posting 22 points on 10-of-13 shooting from the field, which included a 2-for-2 effort from three-point range. Also adding double-figure scoring efforts for the Terriers in the contest were Max.Klesmit and Isaiah Bigelow, who added 12 points apiece to round out the double-figure scorers for the Terriers. 

David Sloan and LeDarrius Brewer were the lone two Bucs to finish in double figures in the contest, with Sloan adding 24 points and Brewer finishing with 18. Sloan connected on 10-of-14 shooting from the field, including 4-of-7 from three-point range.

It marked Mack’s third 20-point scoring effort of the season, and one of the keys to the road win for Wofford was winning the battle of the boards, out-rebounding the Bucs, 36-27, using 11 offensive rebounds to score 21 points. 

The Terriers went to the break with a narrow 32-29 lead. Morgan Safford helped the Terriers open the second half strong with a three, giving the Terriers a six-point, 35-29, lead. However,  back-to-back triples by LeDarrius Brewer made it seem like a flashback to Wofford’s 71-49  loss in Johnson City last season, in a game which saw LeDarrius Brewer score a career-high 30 points. Brewer’s back-to-back triples early in the second half tied the contest, 35-35. 

The game would go back-and-forth of the next few minutes, with Ryan Larson and Isaiah Bigelow trading threes with ETSU’s Sloan to tie the game, 41-41. A BJ Mack jumper gave the Terriers a 43-41 lead heading into the first media timeout of the second half. 

After the first media of the second half, the Terriers would take complete control of the basketball game, as Mack’s jumper prior to the first media timeout would commence a 14-3 run by the Terriers, with Safford’s triple from the right corner giving Wofford its first double-digit lead of the day, at 55-44, with 8:55 remaining. The Terriers would push that lead to as much as 14, at 64-50, following a Mack turnaround jumper in the lane with 3:32 left. 

Wofford returns to the floor Monday night when it travels to UNC Greensboro to meet defending SoCon champion at the Greensboro Coliseum for a 7 p.m. contest. ETSU jumps back into league action, hosting Western Carolina at Freedom Hall in a 7 p.m. contest. 

Chattanooga 85, The Citadel 67

The Chattanooga Mocs remained unbeaten in Southern Conference play, using a strong defensive effort to dispatch The Citadel, 85-67, in a key league contest Saturday afternoon at McKenzie Arena.

With the win, the Mocs improved to 13-3 overall and 3-0 in league play, while The Citadel fell to 6-7 overall and 0-2 in league play.

Highlighting that outstanding effort on the defensive end of the floor by the Mocs was the fact that UTC was able to force the Bulldogs into 18 turnovers, while also holding preseason SoCon Player of the Year Hayden Brown without a field goal in the win. Brown had a 37-point outburst against the Bulldogs last season. Brown was 0-for-4 from the field Saturday, finishing with just four points. Brown finished leading The Citadel on the boards with eight points.

The Mocs defense limited The Citadel to just 44.4% (24-of-54) from the field. The Bulldogs did manage connect on 40.7% (11-of-27) from three-point land in the contest. Stephen Clark led three Bulldogs in double figures, with 22 points, while freshman guard Jason Roche added 16 and Rudy Fitzgibbons Jr. added 13. 

Chattanooga finished being led by a 10th-straight 20-point scoring effort from Malachi Smith, as he posted 27 points on a 10-of-20 shooting performance, including a 4-for-8 effort from three-point range. David Jean-Baptiste added 16 points, while Silvio DeSousa made a strong return to the lineup, with 15 points and 14 rebounds. Senior guard A.J. Caldwell rounded out the Mocs players in double figures, adding 11 points.

David Jean-Baptiste scored seven of the Mocs’ first 11 points of the contest, staking the Mocs to an early 11-8 lead and surpassed the 1,500-point scoring milestone for his career in the process, as he currently ranks fifth on the school’s all-time list. 

Following a Citadel basket coming out of the first media timeout of the game, the Mocs were able to push the lead to seven on back-to-back triples from Grant Ledford and Malachi Smith, making it a 17-10 UTC lead. The Mocs led 20-13 following an Avery Diggs foul shot when the Bulldogs went on a mini 6-0 run to cut the Mocs lead to just one, at 20-19, with a Jason Roche triple with 8:14 remaining in the half. 

From that point, the Mocs would slowly begin to take control of the basketball game, using an 8-0 run to go ahead by nine points. The run started with started by a Smith three-pointer with 7:54 remaining in the half, giving the Mocs a four-point edge, at 23-19.  Another three by Caldwell and a jumper by Jean-Baptiste increased Chattanooga’s lead to 28-19 with 5:54 left in the opening half. The Citadel stayed within striking distance at the half, going into the locker room trailing by only five, at 36-31, as the Bulldogs closed the half with a 12-8 spurt to stay in the game. 

The Mocs took a five-point lead at 38-33 early in the second half when Jean-Baptiste found Silvio De Sousa with a perfect alley-oop feed for the flush.  After the Bulldogs came up empty, a Smith three increased UTC’s early second half lead to eight. De Sousa also continued his strong play on the defensive end of the floor, swatting away a pair of Bulldogs shots, with one of those leading to a Caldwell three and a double-digit, 46-36, Mocs lead.

The Mocs would continue to build on the lead as the second half progressed, first increasing the advantage to 14, at 65-51 with 9:40 remaining following a three-point play the old-fashioned way. Eight minutes later, the Mocs would build their lead to as much as 20 (82-62) following two more Smith foul shots. The Bulldogs cut it to 17 with a Roche triple with 43 seconds remaining before a Jean-Baptiste’s three pushed the Mocs lead back to 20, at 85-65, with 12 seconds remaining. Jackson Price’s layup with three seconds left for The Citadel set the final margin at 18.

The Bulldogs return to action Thursday night when they will host UNC Greensboro. UTC will be on the road Wednesday night to face Western Carolina in a 7 p.m. tip-off slated at the Ramsey Center.

Samford 85, Western Carolina 60

Samford picked up its first Southern Conference win of the season in resounding fashion, and relished playing on the home hardwood of the Pete Hanna Center for the first time in three weeks, as the Bulldogs made rather easy work of the Catamounts, taking an 85-60 win Saturday afternoon. 

The win saw the Bulldogs improve to 11-4 overall and 1-2 in SoCon play, while Western Carolina dropped to 7-8 overall and 1-1 in league play.

For the second-straight game, Jermaine Marshall led the Bulldogs with a double-double, posting his seventh of the season, posting 14 points and 11 rebounds, as he was one of three Bulldogs in double figures in the win. Talented freshman wing Wesley Cardet Jr, led Samford with 18 points, while Ques Glover, who entered the contest as the league’s second-leading scorer, added 16 points. Cardet was 7-for-11 from the field and 1-of-2 from the charity stripe. He also connected on 3-of-4 from the charity stripe. Cardet Jr. rounded out his stats sheet by dishing out a pair of assists, grabbing a pair of rebounds and added a steal and a block on the defensive end. 

Western Carolina had just two players finish the day in double figures, with Nick Robinson’s 15 points pacing the Catamounts, while Joe Petrakis adding 11. 

Like Chattanooga, Samford was able to get it done on the defensive end of the floor, holding the Catamounts to just 33.9% (20-of-59) shooting from the field in the game, which included just a 31.0% (9-of-29) effort from three-point land. 

The Catamounts seemingly started the day well, getting off to a 6-2 lead following a three-pointer by Petrakis just 90 seconds into the game. With the game tied, 11-11, the Bulldogs went on a 10-0 run to take a 21-11 lead with just under 12 minutes remaining in the half on a three-pointer by Cooper Kaifes. The Bulldogs would increase their lead to 13 in the opening half of play, as Jaden Campbell’s layup gave the Bulldogs a 33-20 lead with 6:22 left in the half. The Bulldogs would eventually take a 16-point, 51-35, lead into the halftime locker room.

Early in the second half, the Bulldogs pushed their lead to 20 points for the first time all day when a pair of Marshall foul shots allowed the Bulldogs to take a 62-40 lead with 13:18 left. The Catamounts would make a little run, cutting the Samford lead to 14 following a 9-1 run, which was capped by a Petrakis triple with 11:43 remaining. The Bulldogs scored four quick points to push the lead back to 18, and were never really threatened again, pushing the lead to as much as 26 points, at 83-57, down the stretch. 

SoCon Power Poll

  1. Chattanooga (13-3, 3-0 SoCon)—Mocs are living up to preseason expectations so far, and have a big matchup against Furman looming next Saturday.
  2. Furman (11-6, 3-1 SoCon)—Furman has responded with two big wins after a bit of a hiccup against VMI in its second SoCon game last week on New Year’s Day
  3. Wofford (9-6, 1-2 SoCon)—It was a rough start to  SoCon play for the Terriers, getting off to an 0-2 start in league play for Terriers for the first time since the 2012-13 season, but rebounded with a nice win at ETSU on Saturday.
  4. UNCG (9-5, 1-1 SoCon)—The Spartans may have lost the two Millers, but they haven’t forgotten how to play defense and that will keep them in most all league games. 
  5. Samford (11-4, 1-2 SoCon)—The Bulldogs are a tough out with Ques Glover in the fold. 
  6. ETSU (9-7, 1-2 SoCon)—ETSU really misses Silas Adheke, and must find an inside presence in order to be a factor in the title race. 
  7. VMI (9-7, 2-2 SoCon)—The Keydets have lost back-to-back games after posting a pair of impressive wins over two of the SoCon’s top three, in Furman and Wofford on the road.
  8. Mercer (8-7, 1-1 SoCon)—I think as the season progresses, the Bears will miss point guard Neftali Alvarez more and more. If he makes it back by tournament time, watch out for the Bears. 
  9. The Citadel (7-8, 0-2 SoCon)—Duggar Baucom’s Bulldogs have had a rough start to SoCon play, but could have easily won in Cullowhee.
  10. 10. Western Carolina (7-8, 1-1 SoCon)—It’s going to be an up-and-down ride for Justin Gray in his first year in Cullowhee. 

Overall and SoCon Records since the start of the 2015-16 season

  1. UNCG 148-68, 81-29
  2. ETSU 152-62, 80-28
  3. Furman 142-68, 79-30
  4. Wofford 125-83, 71-39
  5. Chattanooga 142-68, 79-30

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