East Tennessee State survives against VMI in a rare Friday night SoCon game
East Tennessee State got a late flurry to find its way past visiting VMI in a rare Friday night contest in Southern Conference hoops, as ETSU held of feisty VMI for a 69-65 win inside the friendly confines of Freedom Hall. The Bucs used a high-wire act to get things started down the stretch in the win over the Keydets, as Jalen Haynes found Jaden Seymour with a beautiful alley-oop pass and led to a spectacular result, with just over five minutes to play in the basketball game, and then with a minute to play, the SoCon’s worst three-point shooting team got a triple when it needed it most, as Jamarius Hairston came up with the dagger three-pointer, which staked the Bucs to a 65-60 lead. It would prove to be the shot that would end up putting the Bucs in position to claim their 10th win overall and sixth in league play, as the Blue and Gold improved to 10-17 overall and 6-8 in league play. The Bucs placed three players in double figures in the contest, led by Jordan King’s 18 points, while Jalen Haynes and Justice Smith added 12 points apiece. The Keydets had five finish in double figures, led by Tony Felder’s 18 points, while Asher Woods chipped in with 13. Sean Conway and Rickey Bradley Jr. added 12 points apiece in the loss. The loss saw the Keydets fall to 6-21 overall and 1-13 in the Southern Conference. The Bucs remain in a heated battle for a top six finish in the Southern Conference standings, which would3mean the Bucs would avoid opening the tournament in the opening round on Friday, Mar. 3. The Bucs, of course, opened the 2022 Southern Conference Tournament on Thursday night, dropping what was an 84-76 overtime loss to The Citadel at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center last March. The Friday night win by ETSU marked its second-straight victory at Freedom Hall, as the Bucs were able to snap what had been an eight-game home losing streak with a 77-52 win over Wofford last time out on the home floor back on Feb. 1. The Bucs ended the night shooting connecting on 48.1% (26-of-54) from the field and held the Keydets to just 37.1% (23-of-62) from the field in the win. The Bucs now head back out on the SoCon road to face Western Carolina (Feb. 15) and Furman (Feb. 18). The victory gave the Bucs the regular-season sweep of VMI and marked their 25th win in the past 27 meetings between the two.
Saturday Previews (In-depth Furman-Western Carolina preview is in previous article)
Mercer (12-14, 5-8 SoCon) at Chattanooga (13-13, 5-8 SoCon), 3:35 p.m., CBS Sports Network
–Mercer travels to McKenzie Arena for a key Southern Conference contest Saturday afternoon in this weekend’s nationally-televised game in the SoCon. The Mocs handed Mercer their worst home loss this season, as the Mocs downed the Bears, 81-50, back on Dec. 31 in Macon. The win marked the third-straight win in the series by the Mocs. Mercer is playing some of its best basketball at the right time, while the Mocs’ win over The Citadel on the road last time out helped the Mocs into fifth place in the Southern Conference standings based on tiebreakers. The Mocs were able to come up with an impressive 82-63 home win over The Citadel last time out against the Bulldogs. Meanwhile, the Bears dropped a tough, 70-69, overtime decision to league-leading Samford Wednesday night. The Mocs have now been without leading scorer and center Jake Stephens for almost a month now. The game between the Bears and the Mocs game will be televised by CBS Sports Network in what will be the SoCon’s national game of the week. Mercer and Chattanooga are two old rivals, with the two meeting on the hardwood for the 87th time on Saturday afternoon, with the Mocs holding the narrow 45-41 lead in the all-time series. The Mocs won a nine-point grinder, 77-68, in the meeting at McKenzie Arena last season. Without Stephens, the Mocs have become even more reliant on the three-point than they already were previously. In the 19-point win over the Bulldogs Wednesday night, it turned out to be a career-night for Jamal Johnson, who posted 24 points in the win over the Bulldogs. It came on the heels of a game, which saw Johnson go scoreless in a loss at Western Carolina last Saturday. Johnson is a player that must play well for the Mocs down the stretch for them to be successful. The most noticeable stat to come out of the win over the Bulldogs Wednesday night was 15 made three-pointers from the Mocs, as Chattanooga shot 44.1% (15-of-34) from three-point land in the win. Mercer’s Greg Gary will look to muddy up the proceedings in Saturday’s battle with the Mocs. Mercer should have the slight advantage in the paint without Stephens in the middle Saturday. Jaylyn McCreary (15.6 PPG, 5.7 RPG) and Shannon Grant (5.8 PPG, 3.8 RPG) will be tough matchups for the Mocs, while UTC has favorable matchups at all three guard positions, with the point guard battle between Mercer’s Kamar Robertson (11.6 PPG, 2.4 RPG) and Chattanooga’s Dalvin White (9.8 PPG, 2.5 RPG) being the most intriguing of those matchups.
The Citadel (9-17, 4-9 SoCon) at Samford (17-9, 11-2 SoCon), 3 p.m. EST
–The Citadel will look to put an end to a five-game losing skid when it travels to league-leading Samford on Saturday afternoon. The Citadel dropped an 82-63 contest at Chattanooga Wednesday night, while the Samford Bulldogs went to overtime to take down Mercer, 70-69, in Macon. The Citadel is under the direction of first-year head coach Ed Conroy, who is in his second season at the helm of The Citadel’s basketball program. Samford and The Citadel met way back the beginning of Southern Conference play, with Samford able to pick up what was a 75-63 win at McAlister Field House in Charleston. Saturday’s “Battle of the Bulldogs” will mark the 29th meeting in the all-time series between the two, with Samford holding the slight 15-13 edge in the series. The big man battle will be one to watch in this game, as The Citadel’s Stephen Clark (17.0 PPG, 6.6 RPG) goes up against Samford’s Logan Dye (13.9 PPG, 5.5 RPG). Samford’s Pete Hanna Center has proven to be a house of horrors for SoCon opponents over the past couple of seasons, as Samford has won 14-straight games over league opposition in the facility and come into Saturday’s contest having won three-straight games since losing back-to-back games in the Upstate of South Carolina to both Furman (L, 84-91) and Wofford (L, 77-85). Dye has been sensational in Southern Conference games this season, averaging 17.0 PPG and 5.5 RPG. Ques Glover (16.5 PPG, 2.7 RPG) turned in his best overall performance for the Bulldogs since returning to the lineup in the middle of last month, posting 22 points in the overtime win at Mercer Wednesday night. Jermaine Marshall is the third part of that three-headed all-conference monster for Samford, and he’s coming off a performance at Mercer, which saw him post 17 points and four rebounds in the win over the Bears. The Citadel supplements Clark in the middle with pretty solid backcourt play, led by veteran grad transfer Austin Ash (14.8 PPG, 4.7 RPG). Look for Samford to continue its winning ways as it does its part to remain tied atop the SoCon league standings.
Sunday, Feb. 12
Wofford (13-13, 5-8 SoCon) at UNC Greensboro (17-9, 11-2 SoCon), 3 p.m. EST
–The final game of the weekend will see Wofford travel to the Greensboro Coliseum, as interim head coach Dwight Perry’s club will look to rebound from a tough, 95-91, double-overtime loss to Western Carolina last time out Wednesday night at the Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium. This is a key game for both clubs, as second-year head coach Mike Jones looks to keep his UNCG Spartans at pace with Furman and Samford atop the Southern Conference standings with a win, while Perry’s Terriers are in a fight to avoid falling out of the top six and having to play on the opening Friday in an opening round game in the Southern Conference Tournament next month. The two will be meeting for the 54th time on the hardwood, with Wofford holding the 32-21 edge in the all-time series. The Terriers dropped a 73-64 decision to the Spartans back on Dec. 31 in Spartanburg. UNCG put together maybe its most complete game on both ends last time out against East Tennessee State Tuesday night before what was a national viewing audience on ESPNU, as the Spartans ran roughshod over the ETSU Bucs, with a 91-65 win. The win by the Spartans featured what was one of its best offensive performances in a while and definitely one of the top all around shooting performances under second-year head coach Mike Jones. The Spartans shot a blistering 55.7% from the field and knocked down a season-best 15 three-pointers, which is the most threes in a game under the direction of Jones. It also marked the most threes in a game by UNCG since Feb. 28, 2019, when the Spartans knocked down 16 triples in a win over The Citadel in Charleston. Leading the charge for the Spartans last time out was their dynamic backcourt of Keondre Kennedy (13.1 PPG, 6.1 RPG) and Keyshaun Langley (13.8 PPG, 3.1 RPG), who combined for 40 of those 91 points in the win, with Kennedy posting 21 points, while Keyshun Langley added 19. The Spartans two inside guys are Mohammed Abdulasalam (7.3 PPG, 6.7 RPG) and Bas Leyte (7.5 PPG, 4.3 RPG), and while they won’t overwhelm you with offensive numbers, what they do bring to the table is know-how and experience and the knowledge of how to make plays in the clutch when the game is on the line. Wofford has its own inside-outside duo, in dynamic freshman guard Jackson Paveletzke (14.6 PPG, 2.7 RPG) and veteran inside force BJ Mack (15.7 PPG, 5.3 RPG). Wofford’s biggest issue has been finding a consistent third scorer to supplement those two. In the double-overtime setback to the Catamounts, the Terriers had five finish in double figures, with Mack leading the way with 22 points, while Paveletzke added 17. Corey Tripp (8.9 PPG, 3.2 RPG) added 16 points, as he snapped a string of five games in which he failed to reach double figures. Other candidates that could step up for Wofford and be that third scorer for the Terriers down the stretch include University of Virginia transfer guard Carson McCorkle (6.1 PPG, 1.3 RPG) as well as veteran forward Messiah Jones (9.2 PPG, 5.0 RPG), who has struggled to find his way after the injury. I actually think Wofford ends up playing well in this game, however, I expect the difference to once again be UNCG’s defensive prowess, as the Spartans protect the home floor to move to 12-2 in league play on Super Sunday.