Tuesday, January 6, 2015

SoCon Reviews-1/5/15

Mercer 85, VMI 75

Player of the Game: Phillip Leonard scored 21 points and made 6 of 10 from the floor and 9 of 11 from the free throw line. Leonard really showed that he was capable to score points when Ike Nwamu is not completely on. Nwamu scored just 12, so Leonard needed to step up. He did so in a big way.

Stat of the Game: VMI shot just 37.5% from the floor. Part of that was the Mercer defense, while part was the VMI offense. Nonetheless, Mercer's defense really played well and slowed down the Keydets offense. VMI has to shoot the ball better if they are expecting to win games.

What It All Means: For a team that prides itself on scoring in big numbers, the Keydets really struggled offensively for much of the night. Now, VMI has lost 6 of 7 games and is 1-3 in SoCon play. This team is really struggling. They really could use a true point guard. QJ Peterson is averaging over 20 points per game, but is only shooting 35.4% from the floor and 29.5% from three point range. He needs to shoot better than that. With four road games in their next five, things could get worse before they get better for VMI. The Bears defensive effort is so good. I know Wofford gets a lot of credit for their defensive play, but I think Mercer may be a better defensive team. Mercer also has one of the most explosive athletes in the conference in Ike Nwamu. But it is  nice for the Bears to know that Phillip Leonard can step up when necessary, as he poured in 21 points against the Keydets. TJ Hallice also collected eight rebounds. The Bears have one more road game- at ETSU. After that, they will play three home games they will be heavily favored in.

The Citadel 85, UNCG 83

Player of the Game: Ashton Moore scored 28 points and made 9 of 13 from the floor. He made 3 of 5 from three point range and 7 of 7 from the free throw line. Moore stepped up in this one and had a monstrous game. He also had five rebounds. Not only that, but he sat out just two minutes, playing 43 minutes in this overtime showdown.

Stat of the Game: The Bulldogs made 10 of 18 from three point range. The Spartans defense always seems to leave players open to shoot lay ups or threes off the screen. The Citadel were knocking down the threes, and that is not only why the Spartans are one of the worst defenses in the conference, but also why the Bulldogs were able to score 85 points in this one.

What It All Means: Uh-oh. As ugly as things have been for the Spartans at times this year, things just got worse. UNCG losing at home to The Citadel is a major setback for this program. Pay no attention that the Bulldogs are actually playing decent basketball recently. This is a loss that should not happen to UNCG. They simply play atrocious defense, foul too frequently, and go through long stretches where they forget their best shooter (Nicholas Paulos) is on the floor, while Tevon Saddler takes everyone one on one. The calls for Wes Miller's head are not going to quiet. At 1-2 in SoCon play and road games in four of their next five, things could be about to get worse for Miller. For The Citadel, they finally won a road game, breaking a nineteen game losing streak. They made 55.6% of their threes, Ashton Moore was brilliant, and PJ Horgan looked very good. This team is 1-2 in SoCon play. However, if they can turn this game into some momentum, they might get to 2-2. They may even be favored at home against Samford on Thursday night. This team still has a shot at one of the byes, believe it or not.

Western Carolina 72, Furman 53

Player of the Game: James Sinclair scored 20 points with seven rebounds and four assists. Sinclair made an amazing 8 of 10 from the floor. He has been shooting the ball well all year and is a dangerous threat, but he just did not miss much in this one. The Catamounts leading scorer had an excellent game.

Stat of the Game: Western Carolina went 27 of 47 from the floor. Their eFG was 66%. That is amazing. They shot the ball so well, that they put the game away almost from the start. When a team is that hot, there is very little any team can do, which is why Furman is lucky to only lose by 19 in some ways.

What It All Means:  The Paladins played one of their worst games of the year, as Stephen Croone and Kendrec Ferrara combined for ten points. They will not win many games like that. When those two are not performing, they are going to lose a lot of games. Fortunately for them, they face two other struggling teams at home in their next two- UNCG and VMI. At 1-2 in SoCon play, they have a chance to get back to winning in their next two. It is not panic time yet in Greenville, but this weekend determines everything about this season for the Paladins. For the Catamounts, they have now won four in a row after losing five in a row. At 2-1 in SoCon play, they go to Chattanooga this weekend and host UNCG. Western Carolina simply could not miss in this one. They were hot right from the beginning and just never cooled off. It really was a convergence of Western playing nearly perfect basketball and Furman's best players not showing off. No surprise in the result when that happens.
Wofford 68, Chattanooga 64

Player of the Game: It's impossible to go with anyone but Karl Cochran, who poured in 27 points and made 6 of 6 from three point range in the second half of this game. He scored 33 points overall. He took 21 shots for the game, making 12 of them and made 6 of 9 from three point range. He also had five steals, three rebound and three assists. He made huge threes down the stretch to give the Terriers the lead and put the game away.

Stat of the Game: Terriers 41.7 OR% is very high, and one of the main reasons the Mocs lost this one. The Mocs did a decent job keeping Wofford off the glass in the first half, but couldn't do that in the second half. That's one of the reasons the Terriers went from 20 points in the first half to 48 points in the second half.

What It All Means: The Mocs blew a big second half lead for the second time this year. They just can't seem to hold onto late leads. That being said, Justin Tuoyo has proven to be a truly major force that everyone is going to have trouble with in the SoCon. Casey Jones continues to impress. The Mocs should be frustrated for letting one slip away against the conference favorite, but they have clearly established themselves as one of the frontrunners in the conference race. This is a huge weekend though. Now at 2-1 in SoCon play, the Mocs can not let up as they host 2-1 Western Carolina and go to 3-1 ETSU. Wofford knows how to win ugly. Much like they did against Charleston Southern, the Terriers struggled early, but their defense helped keep the game close enough for them to make a second half run and come up with the win. Not only was Cochran brilliant, but Lee Skinner played well, and CJ Neumann deserves a lot of credit, coming up with five offensive rebounds. The Terriers are 2-0 in SoCon play and have five of their next six at home, including VMI and Samford this weekend- both of which they will be heavy favorites in.

ETSU 76, Samford 74

Player of the Game: Jalen Riley scored 26 points with eight assists and three rebounds. He went 7 of 14 from the floor and 4 of 8 from three point range, while knocking down 8 of 9 free throws. He made three of four from the stripe in the final 1:38 to help break a 72 all tie and give the Bucs the win. Riley has been the best player off the bench in the conference this year. He has been nothing short of spectacular and was again.

Stat of the Game: Samford committed sixteen turnovers and that was the only thing that slowed down the Bulldogs offense. The Bucs defense was not good, but it did force enough turnovers to help them eek out the two point win. Sometimes, that's all that matters.

What It All Means: Samford has a lot to feel good about despite being 0-4 in SoCon play. The Bulldogs lost to Wofford and ETSU, two of the best teams in the SoCon, by a combined five points in the last three days. When compared to the rest of the bottom of the conference, like VMI, Furman and UNCG, that is downright impressive. This team was red hot shooting from the floor, the charity stripe, and the three point line. With twenty assists on 24 made field goals, they really did play a great offensive game. Christen Cunningham and Darius Jones-Gibson continue to be impressive. The important thing for the Bulldogs is not to get down on themselves now. They go to The Citadel on Thursday in a critical game that will determine which of the two teams will be in better position to compete for a bye. Who saw that coming a week ago? ETSU also shot the ball very well, but did not rebound well or play particularly good defense. Jalen Riley was great, but Rashawn Rembert was also brilliant, with eighteen points and five rebounds. The Bucs are 3-1 in SoCon  play and look like they could be a contender in the conference. But their size is a real problem. They have to be making shots to win. This weekend is huge for the Bucs, as they host Mercer and Chattanooga, two other SoCon contenders. If ETSU comes out of this weekend at 5-1 in conference play, they will be considered the main challengers to Wofford. This is a very good offensive club, and their style match-up with Mercer will be thrilling.

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