Wofford 62, Western Carolina 43
Player of the Game: Lee Skinner scored 13 points on 6 of 11 shooting and also collected 11 rebounds. It's about time. Skinner has not seemed to really be himself lately. This was his first double-double of the year. It is probably appropriate that this is one of the best recent performances for Wofford and it coincides with Skinner seeming to come alive.
Stat of the Game: Western Carolina shot 27.8% from the field. Yikes. That is really cold shooting. The Catamounts are a team that relies on a high shooting percentage to win games, and tonight they were anything but hot shooting. Part of that was Wofford's defensive intensity for sure.
What It All Means: For the Catamounts, have they been anointed too soon as a sure fire Top Five team? They are now 3-4 in SoCon play. Of course, all four losses are to the other teams perceived to be in the Top Five (Wofford, Chattanooga, ETSU and Mercer). They are 3-0 against the rest of the conference. They may be a team that is just exactly who they are- not quite good enough to win against elite competition, but plenty good enough to beat the lower competition of the conference. If that's the case, things are going to get worse before they get better. They host Mercer and then go on the road against three teams that people think they are better than. This four game stretch will tell us a ton about where the Catamounts really fit into the conference picture. Wofford finally came out and played with the intensity and focus that we have all been waiting on all conference season. They showed up and dominated the Catamounts pretty much from the outset. They were the hungry team that wanted to win tonight and did not play with the tightness that has plagued this team. It was the sort of night that helps explain why Wofford is still the SoCon favorite, even if they are tied with Chattanooga for second in the conference one half game behind Mercer right now. The Terriers played that game like they were on a mission. If they keep on playing like that, look out SoCon. They get Furman and ETSU at home next week.
VMI 85, ETSU 79
Player of the Game: Fred Iruafemi had scored just 40 points on the season heading into the day. If you took out his first game against ETSU, he had scored just 30 points in fifteen games, or 2.0 points per contest. He scored ten against them on January 2 and scored 16 on Saturday. That's an average of 13.0 points per game against the Bucs. The 6-6, 205 pound freshman will need to put up some big games against some other opponents. He also has just 26 rebounds in the fifteen games not against ETSU, but has collected nine in both contests against the Bucs. Iruafemi could turn into an important player for the Keydets now.
Stat of the Game: ETSU committed 25 turnovers. That's a lot of turnovers. Yes, the Bucs forced 19, but the pressure of the Keydets got to the Bucs, creating more possessions for VMI. That's what their defense is expected to do. Interestingly, they have become one of the better defenses in the SoCon statistically. The offense has not been good, so they need to force turnovers.
What It All Means: For ETSU, this just adds to the puzzle. They are now 5-3 in SoCon play, with a 3-1 record against the other perceived Top Five teams (Wofford, Chattanooga, Mercer and Western Carolina being the other four) and just 2-2 against the perceived Bottom Five teams. That's not good. In their last ten conference games, they play just four at home. This is a team capable of beating anyone in the conference, but capable of losing to anyone in the conference too. Jalen Riley was held to just thirteen points. This team needs more production out of Rashawn Rembert and Riley than the 32 points they go today. Those two have been combining for 46.4 points per game in their wins in SoCon play and just 35.0 points per game in their losses. The Keydets got to 3-5 in SoCon play. So much for the importance of shooting well. VMI continued to struggle shooting, but all the turnovers and offensive rebounds (22 of them) gave VMI enough shots that they were able to come away with the number of shots necessary to win the game. The big news is that QJ Peterson has taken a medical furlough and will be out the rest of the year. It's remarkable that without him VMI was able to come up with the win. This team is changing everything about it. It will be very interesting to see where they go from here. They go to Chattanooga on Thursday before getting five straight home games. This is the time that VMI needs to start winning if they are going to get into decent position to get a bye.
Furman 74, The Citadel 62
Player of the Game: Devin Sibley. Below, I'll talk about Acox, Ferrara and Croone and how important they are to this game. Sibley scored 25 points on 7 of 11 shooting, while 3 of 4 from three point range and 8 of 10 from the free throw line. He also came up with four rebounds and two blocks. The freshman is coming into his own.
Stat of the Game: Furman 46.7 OR%. The Paladins came up with 14 offensive rebounds in 30 opportunities. That's a huge deal. The Paladins shot 51.9% from the floor and were grabbing an extraordinary number of the offensive rebounds even when they missed. That really helped the Paladins come up with this important road win.
What It All Means: The Bulldogs could not capitalize on the momentum from beating Wofford on Thursday night, losing to the Paladins at home. Ashton Moore was cold today, and when that has happened, the Bulldogs have lost this year. Moore has to be playing well. He may be the most important player in the SoCon to his team. He has to play well for them to win. They only turned the ball over six times and played decent offense, but the defense was not good again. At 3-4 in SoCon play, the Bulldogs are still in OK position for the SoCon bye race. But their next three games are all on the road- at ETSU, VMI and Chattanooga. The Bulldogs really need to get at least one on the road or risk falling pretty far out of the race. Furman is proving that they can win without Stephen Croone. He continues to not be scoring but doing a lot of other things. He scored just eleven points, but had four rebounds and five assists. The Paladins continue to look better than their record indicates. This club is 3-4 in SoCon play and tied with The Citadel after the win on Saturday. For once, Kris Acox and Kendrec Ferrara both played well at once. They came up with a combined 22 points and 17 rebounds. This team is tough to beat when they both are playing that well. Furman goes to Wofford next Thursday. That's going to be tough.
Mercer 80, Samford 56
Player of the Game: Ike Nwamu scored 22 points on 6 of 11 shooting from the floor and 3 of 7 from three point range, along with 7 of 8 from the free throw line. He had four rebounds and two assists as well. Nwamu is one of the most athletic players in the conference. He can have games like this that he kind of takes over.
Stat of the Game: Mercer made 22 of 27 free throws, compared to Samford making 8 of 16. That is a huge disparity at the free throw line. In a game where Mercer dominated almost every statistical category, this was the one that really helped to ensure that they would win this game with ease.
What It All Means: For Samford, this was their worst game since the calendar turned to January. They are now 0-8 in SoCon play, and while more than likely an 8-10 record would be good enough to earn a bye, that would mean 8-2 the rest of the way for the Bulldogs, which seems very unlikely. This team only made 50% of their free throws today, got outrebounded by 13, made just 25% of their threes and only forced ten turnovers. They were behind almost immediately 17-2. There are pieces on this team, but they are a year or two from putting it together. They host UNCG, Western Carolina and Furman in their next three. The key is where their confidence is at this point. Much like The Citadel last year, one win might spiral into another two or three wins pretty quickly. Mercer is alone in first place in the SoCon, but also has played (according to Pomeroy) the easiest conference schedule so far. They have only played one game against one of the perceived Top Five teams, which they lost (albeit by one on the road). Four of their next five games are on the road, with the lone home game being against Chattanooga. Mercer used their size advantage, garnering more offensive rebounds than Samford collected defensive boards. They handled Samford's pressure and took the Bulldogs out of the game immediately with the early run. That's how you take care of a team like Samford on your home floor.