ETSU 83, Western Carolina 76
Player of the Game: Jalen Riley came off the bench and poured in 31 points on 10 of 16 shooting from the floor. Riley continues to combine with Rembert to be the most lethal scoring combo of guards in the whole conference. They scored 52 of the team's 83 points tonight. Really unbelievable how this happens night after night.
Stat of the Game: The Bucs made 26 of 38 from the free throw line. That was ten more free throws than the Catamounts and made seven more, which was the point differential. ETSU made enough free throws to get through this one.
What It All Means: For Western Carolina, it is becoming more and more clear that this team is just a half step behind the top teams in the SoCon. They have lost twice to ETSU now and once to Chattanooga by an averaged of 6.7 points per game. Even with James Sinclair, this team has it's flaws. They are not a great defensive team, and do not have the inside presence to rely on being the consistently great offensive team they need to be. Torrion Brummitt continues to show his improvement, though. He had 14 points and 14 rebounds in this one. The Catamouns need to come up with one huge win against one of the SoCon big boys. The game at Wofford and at home against Mercer in their next two give them an opportunity. ETSU finds themselves in decent position. They continue to keep up with their opponents on the glass despite their size deficiencies. This team is an interesting collection. Rembert and Riley have proven to be magnificent scorers and McClain continues to guide the offense effectively. This team really understands their roles and executes them beautifully. At 5-2, they find themselves right in the thick of the SoCon race. They need to win at dangerous VMI on Saturday to keep in that position. A game at Wofford looms next Saturday.
UNCG 75, VMI 63
Player of the Game: Kayel Locke scored 19 points and had eight rebounds. He made 9 of 16 from the floor. The Spartans dominated with their big men and Locke was the top performer. He is a match-up problem for a lot of SoCon teams. He should play like this more often.
Stat of the Game: VMI made 9 of 40 from three point range. They continue to really struggle offensively. This team is so high octane and offensive focused that when they struggle on that end of the court, they are really going to struggle. They rank last in the conference in two point percentage shooting and three point percentage shooting. Yikes. That's not good. They absolutely must start making a higher percentage of their shots.
What It All Means: The Keydets, a popular choice to receive the sixth bye in the SoCon Tournament, is only 2-5 in conference play and are starting to find trouble for themselves. If they do not start making more shots, they will fall even further. This team is not built to win games with scores in the 60s. They simply can't do it. Yet, in recent weeks, they have shot so poorly that is what is expected of them. Eventually, they will warm up, and you probably don't want to be playing them when that happens. UNCG desperately needed a win, and they got it. Amazingly, they moved within just one game of the final bye. Yes, it is early to be thinking about that, but it's never too early to think about it a little. The Spartans have very talented inside players that should be able to dominate a lot of SoCon games. That's what they did in this one. On top of that Diante Baldwin played well. With Tevon Saddler out, this team is learning how to play without him. That can only benefit them in the long run.
The Citadel 69, Wofford 66
Player of the Game: Ashton Moore scored 29 points on 10 of 17 shooting from the floor and 6 of 10 shooting from three point range. He had four rebounds, four assists and one steal. Moore has turned into one of the better guards in the league. He has been playing excellent basketball and was the main reason the Bulldogs were able to pull off the upset.
Stat of the Game: The Citadel shot lights out the whole night, but made 9 of 14 from three point range. Jake Wright and Quinton Marshall went along with Moore in the excellent long range shooting that helped the Bulldogs come up with big shot after big shot down the stretch to pull out the win.
What It All Means: For the Terriers, this game probably ends their legitimate chance at an at large bid to the NCAA Tournament. This loss will be an anchor to their RPI and their overall resume from this point forward. They have been playing with fire the whole SoCon schedule and they finally got burned. They will eventually put things together and are still the favorite to win the conference, but the concerns that I've been expressing about their play in recent week is now more than just concerns. They need to get it together, or they risk not even winning the regular season conference title. Karl Cochran finally couldn't bail them out late. The Citadel proved that the turnaround that has been going on in conference play is legitimate. This team is a contender to get a bye in the SoCon Tournament, something that seemed unlikely just a little over a week ago. The team is a good offensive team with some major defensive deficiencies that they cover up by slowing down the game. This team executes at a higher level than most Bulldog teams in the past. They have good guards, and their bigs are better than most other SoCon schools have.
Mercer 67, Furman 64
Player of the Game: Darious Moten had 16 points on a perfect 6 of 6 from the floor. He had five rebounds, two steals, one assist and one block to go along with that. He played a nearly perfect game. He's averaging 15.7 points per game in SoCon play and just 8.0 points per game out of conference.
Stat of the Game: It's tough to identify because of the Bears dominating performance on the glass, but I'll go with the 65.9 eFG%. The Bears shot the ball so effectively, the virtually eliminated Furman's chances of winning. It's hard to win when the other team does not miss a shot. They did not miss much in this one.
What It All Means: The Paladins put up a valiant fight, but came up short. There is something interesting starting to transpire though. Stephen Croone is doing well on rebounds and assists since Christmas Break, but his game is changing a bit. Last year, he averaged 19.0 points per game. He was averaging 18.9 points per game prior to Christmas. Since then, he is down to 13.7 points per game. Prior to Christmas Break, he only had one game where did not take double digit shots. Since Christmas, this game was the first one with double digit shots. As his game adjusts, the team is slowly getting better. The other Paladins are stepping up their games. They are 2-4 in the SoCon, but have lost road games to Mercer, Chattanooga and Western Carolina, road contests that no bottom half of the conference team will be expected to win. They go to The Citadel on Saturday in a huge battle for positioning in the bye race. Mercer has slowly developed into a better offensive team than they appeared to be earlier in out of conference play, but their defense has suffered in recent games. They still rank as the second best team in conference games in Defensive Efficiency per KenPom, but they allowed Furman to shoot over 50% from the floor. That is two straight games that their opponent has shot that well. They are tied with Chattanooga for the SoCon lead at the moment. All it takes is beating Samford on Saturday at home and the Bears will be in first by themselves in the conference. However, they have also played the easiest schedule of any team in the conference at this point, which is not going to change when they take on winless Samford. The schedule will toughen up and that we will know about the Bears then.
Chattanooga 82, Samford 76
Player of the Game: Justin Tuoyo scored 14 points with 11 rebounds four assists and three blocks. Samford came up with seven offensive rebounds as a team. Tuoyo came up with eight by himself. As has been said before, Tuoyo is a difficult match-up for almost any SoCon team. He continues to create problems for those teams. He is great.
Stat of the Game: Mocs had 40% OR while Samford had just a 24.1%. All those extra possessions gave the Mocs ability to stay in the game when they were struggling early and pull away towards the end of the game. The conference average is 33.5%, so the Mocs were above average and Samford was below average. Tuoyo out offensive rebounded the Bulldogs himself. Even without Tuoyo, the Mocs came up with six offensive boards and Samford just one more at seven.
What It All Means: Samford remains the best winless team in conference play in recent memory. This team has played in a world of tough games, playing ETSU, Chattanooga and Wofford twice. That's four very difficult SoCon games so far, and they played at The Citadel and at Furman. They hosted VMI and lost by 22 in December, which is by far their worst conference performance. The Bulldogs led by ten in this one in the first half, but could not deliver the knock out blow. Darius Jones-Gibson scored 24 and was brilliant. Christen Cunningham was not up to the task in this one as a freshman point guard. He was going to be interesting to watch how he matched up in this one, but it was no match, as he scored two points, had one rebound, no assists and four turnovers in 27 minutes. The Mocs are tied for the SoCon lead with Mercer all of the sudden. The Mocs did not shoot threes well, and they turned the ball over fifteen turnovers. But they survived, and that was all that mattered on this night. Greg Pryor returned from his injury and played solidly. He only played twenty minutes, had two assists and one turnover. Not bad. Tuoyo helped cover up a lot of the deficiencies and the team came up with an important win. They have off Saturday before hosting VMI and UNCG next week. The game at Mercer in two weeks is starting to loom.