Western Carolina 60, Mercer 52
Player of the Game: James Sinclair had 19 points, four rebounds and five assists. He made 6 of 13 from the floor. He made 2 of 5 from three point range and 5 of 7 from the free throw line. Sinclair is the most important player on the Catamounts roster. It's a good thing he was eligible, because the Catamounts do not win this one without him.
Stat of the Game: Mercer 29.6% from the field. The Bears have been shooting right around 50% every night in SoCon play. Tonight- not so much. The Bears were stymied by a hungry Catamounts defense and the Bears simply could not score enough to stay in the game all the way. The Catamounts deserve some credit. The Bears deserve some fault for it as well.
What It All Means: The Bears are no longer in first in the SoCon and have a week to stew about this loss before taking on the co-leaders of the SoCon in back-to-back games, Chattanooga and Wofford. Mercer jumped out to an early lead, but really struggled on the offensive end after that. I have consistently been impressed with how good Mercer's offense has looked in conference play because I did not think they looked that good offensively out of conference. Tonight, all the bad offense showed up again. Ike Nwamu only took five shots. They have got to get him more shots for them to be a more complete club. For Western Carolina, this game announces that they are a threat in the SoCon. It has been believed all along that they were one of the top five teams in the conference, and today was the first time they have played like it against one of the other top five teams. This was an impressive defensive show, while James Sinclair and Rhett Harrelson made just enough threes to keep the offense going. This team will not win the regular season title almost certainly. However, the Catamounts have now proven that they are a real threat to win it in Asheville. That's pretty good for January.
Chattanooga 86, VMI 64
Player of the Game: Justin Tuoyo had ten points, seven rebounds, four blocks and two steals. He made just 3 of 7 from the floor, but 4 of 5 from the free throw line. Tuoyo contributes and changes the game in so many facets. The Keydets are just the latest SoCon team to figure this out. That stat line doesn't stick out, but Tuoyo really impacted the game.
Stat of the Game: Mocs ten turnovers. The Mocs jumped out to an early lead, and nearly gave it all back during a stretch where they simply could not protect the ball. Late in the first half, the Mocs had eight turnovers. They only committed two more the rest of the night and were able to pull away. The Keydets thrive on forcing turnovers and the Mocs did not let them get many tonight.
What It All Means: For the Keydets, this loss was damaging. Without QJ Peterson on Saturday, they looked like a more complete team. Tonight, they looked like a much worse team. They did not force turnovers. They did not make shots. They did rebound the ball extraordinarily well, so that is a positive to take away from this one. Still at 3-6 in SoCon play, VMI now needs to get back to winning. Of course, their next five games are at home, along with seven of their last night. That's really good news for VMI. They are in good shape despite their 3-6 mark because of all the home games down the stretch. Chattanooga now finds themselves tied with Wofford for the SoCon lead. They did a good job tonight handling the adversity, committing just two turnovers in the second half and ten for the game. They did not shoot the ball great (though they did shoot fine) or rebound particularly well. But they played defense and controlled the tempo of the game. The Mocs did not let the Keydets tempo dictate the game and take the Mocs out of rhythm. The Mocs pretty much always looked comfortable out there. After a home date with UNCG on Saturday, the Mocs have a huge one at Mercer next Thursday.
ETSU 70, The Citadel 59
Player of the Game: Jalen Riley scored 18 points along with four assists and two steals. He made just 6 of 15 from the floor, but matched Rashawn Rembert for the most points on the team. Riley started tonight and earned it.
Stat of the Game: The Citadel shot 38.6% from the floor. They have been shooting the ball pretty well in conference play (much like Mercer), but really struggled tonight from the floor. The game was too fast paced for the Bulldogs, and they did not shoot the ball well enough to win the game. Too many possessions happened and the Bucs controlled the pace of play.
What It All Means: The Bulldogs fell to 3-5 in SoCon play, but it was really the first thirteen and a half minutes that did them in. The Citadel was down 34-12 at 6:30 left in the first half. They fought back to be down just 60-55 late in the second half, but the comeback took too much out of them. They could not get all the way back. This team showed a lot of grit and a lot of fight. There was a lot to be proud of tonight for the Bulldogs. They go to VMI and Chattanooga for their next two games. That game on Saturday between VMI and The Citadel is a critical one. ETSU did not play well after the opening minutes, but they did enough to win the game. Rashawn Rembert and Jalen Riley were just able to score 18 points apiece, and yet the Bucs won the game. That says a lot about how much more of a team performance this was. The Bucs generally controlled the pace, which was important in this one. The Bucs go to co-leader Wofford on Saturday. If they want to win the SoCon regular season title, they need to beat Wofford and get back within one half game of the co-leaders. Should be a pretty interesting game.
Wofford 74, Furman 49
Player of the Game: Karl Cochran scored 23 points on 8 of 12 shooting from the floor and 6 of 9 shooting from three point range. He also had seven rebounds, three assists and two steals. Cochran was a dominant force tonight for the Terriers and shot lights out all night long.
Stat of the Game: Karl Cochran and Spencer Collins 73.9 eFG%. This was the critical stat to the Terriers a year ago. Tonight, Cochran shot well, but Collins made 5 of 10 from the floor and 2 of 3 from three point range. It is really difficult to beat the Terriers when those two shoot the ball that well.
What It All Means: The Paladins simply got outplayed by a better team. Wofford shot the ball very well, while the Paladins did not. Furman looked nearly the same way at Western Carolina, and then rebounded with some good performances. That could happen again. Croone took 13 of the 43 shots the Paladins took on the night. No one else took more than eight shots. That has been a bad recipe for Furman. They take the day off from SoCon play to play Allen on Saturday night. The Terriers came out and played nearly flawless basketball from the beginning. That is how you take an underdog's will and crush it very early in the game. Wofford took it to them. Since that loss to The Citadel last Thursday, the Terriers have played their two best games in SoCon play yet. Eric Garcia did play 16 minutes, so that is very important to this team moving forward. The Terriers are tied for first in the SoCon with Chattanooga and host ETSU on Saturday night.
Samford 89, UNCG 78
Player of the Game: Michael Bradley scored 12 points with ten rebounds and three blocks. He needed to play a huge game against the Spartan big men and he came up with one of his best games as a Bulldog. He made 5 of 10 from the floor and really played an all around great game.
Stat of the Game: Samford made 21 of 25 from the free throw line. UNCG made just 12 free throws. Those nine points were huge. Samford made 84% from the free throw line. That is a remarkable percentage for one of the worst free throw shooting teams in the league. That is the main reason that the Bulldogs came up with the victory in this one.
What It All Means: For the Spartans, it is important to remember that they might be in ninth place in the conference, but they still sit just one half game out the sixth spot which would be good enough for a bye. This team played well offensively, and did a reasonable job against the press. Yes, sixteen turnovers is too many, but it was not disastrously bad. Kayel Locke scored 19, Tevon Saddler was back from injury and scored 18, RJ White scored 9 and Diante Baldwin scored 13 and had eight assists. It really could not have been much better offensively. Defensively left a lot to be desired for the Spartans. They simply could not slow down the Bulldogs offense tonight, or most nights. The Spartans go to Chattanooga on Saturday evening. Samford finally got their first conference win and it was a lot of fun for them. They shot the ball extraordinarily well. They put five guys in double figures tonight and had 21 assists on 31 made field goals. They really just played exceptionally well. This team is capable of running off several in a row, with Western Carolina and Furman coming up at home in their next two games. Samford can still get out of the SoCon basement, but they need to keep the positive momentum going from here.