The Mocs played their most complete game of the year on Thursday night in defeating The Citadel, 89-76.
It was also the introduction of the defense I've been waiting to see all year. The Mocs played full court pressure defense from start to finish....and the Mocs forced the Bulldogs into sixteen turnovers. Yes, The Citadel barely missed any shots, shooting 53.1% from the floor. But the defense was effective. In the second half, they held the Bulldogs to 50% shooting, which does not sound great, but it was an improvement on the first half. When combined with sixteen turnovers compared to the Mocs eight, and the Mocs coming up with thirteen offensive rebounds compared to the Bulldogs coming up with eight, you come up with the Mocs taking sixteen more shots from the floor. That's how you win basketball games when your opponent shoots well over 50%.
So was the defense good? Sure. I'll go with it in this game. I'll also go so far as to say that if the Mocs play that defense against College of Charleston on Saturday evening, it might be effective too. The Cougars have been prone to turnovers in their losses. If the Mocs can force a bunch of turnovers against the Cougars, maybe they can be competitive.
The Mocs offense was lead by Drazen Zlovaric, who scored 14 of the teams first 28 points. He wound up with 18. There were signs against Georgia Southern that he was snapping out of his funk. I was afraid to think that it might carry over since he has been in such a slump this year. Then, Zlovaric played this game. Maybe he'll continue on a winning streak. The Mocs certainly need him for them to continue winning.
Martynas Bareika was also very good in this one. He made a couple of moves to the basket that were very impressive. He finished with twelve points.
Rico White had 19. He looks more and more comfortable as the point guard. I honestly think that Dontay Hampton coming back and Farad Cobb's larger role at point guard really helped White, even though Hampton is out now. It got White's offensive confidence back. Now that he has rediscovered some of his confidence, he could continue to be a force.
Z Mason picked up two fouls less than three minutes into the first half. He was benched the rest of the first half. He wound up scoring fourteen second half points, but did not get a rebound all night. Ouch. Still, Z scored 14 points in just nineteen minutes. He had one dunk that was worthy of the SportCenter Top Ten. It was impressive.
Then, there is Gee McGhee. He scored 22 points, had seven rebounds and four assists. This freshman has been unbelievable. I did not anticipate him being this good this year. He has shown no fear in getting to the basket all year long. He has consistently been able to get into the lane. That ability was first shown against Kansas and has kept up all year long. Now, it's just a given that he can get to the basket. He was down after his missed three toward the end of the game against Georgia Southern. But he did not let it keep him down, playing what was probably his best game as a Moc.
Watching this team, it is easy to start getting excited about next year. Mason, McGhee, and White will be the cornerstones of next year's team. Lance Stokes, who had five assists and three steals, and is probably the Mocs best perimeter defender, continues to impress. Farad Cobb has shown flashes. Martynas Bareika has improved. Casey Jones has been injured, but he showed flashes when he was starting earlier in the year. There is plenty to be excited about for next year.
This year's team is more of a mixed bag. The Mocs moved into the eighth spot in the SoCon standings, but are just 1.5 games behind Appalachian State for the fourth and final bye. With five home games in their next six games, the Mocs could make a run right now. They need to if they are going to get into the bye discussion seriously. I'm not sure if the Mocs can really get there or not. This team is closer than a lot of people seem to think to being in decent position.
I want to believe. But I will reserve judgement until at least the end of Monday night's game against Samford. These next two games are huge to the overall feeling about these Mocs.