Chattanooga 56, Wofford 46
Player of the Game: Casey Jones had 23 points, eight rebounds, four assists, a steal and a block. Jones made 10 of 14 from the floor and he continues to make a case that he belongs in the Player of the Year discussion in the league.
Stat of the Game: Wofford shot 30.4% from the floor. Some of that was cold shooting and some was Chattanooga's defense, but the Terriers were not shooting the ball well. It's hard to win a game where you shoot the ball that poorly. Should Wofford be concerned? After all, against Chattanooga and Mercer at home, they have scored an average of 47.5 points per game. If you take out the second half at Chattanooga when Wofford scored 48 points, they have been scoring against the other top four teams (Western Carolina, Mercer and Chattanooga) just 50.6 points per 40 minutes. That would be a weakness in Asheville.
What It All Means: Hello, SoCon Championship race! The Terriers suddenly find themselves right in the thick of a real race for the championship. After all, their three road games are all semi-difficult. They go to Western Carolina and Mercer (not easy for any team) and they also go to Furman, a team that beat ETSU and played Mercer and Chattanooga very close in Greenville. The Terriers did not make shots and are an inefficient enough offense that they can lose a game. Their defense will keep them in every game, but this team needs dominant Lee Skinner and hot shooting Karl Cochran and lower volume shooter Spencer Collins to show up. Those guys did not show up for the Terriers. Saturday's game is a make or break game for the Terriers. The Mocs have re-inserted themselves into the title discussion with the win. Their defense was very good, the offense was good, when they protected the ball. Duke Ethridge continued his hot play. Justin Tuoyo continued to not play well. He was in foul trouble all night and played just sixteen minutes. For the Mocs to be the best they can be, they need Tuoyo to play better. The Mocs will be favored in each of their final five games, but probably need Wofford to lose twice to win the conference title. They play an important home game against Samford on Saturday evening.
Western Carolina 58, Mercer 54
Player of the Game: Mike Brown scored 14 points on 5 of 7 shooting from the floor to go along with four rebounds. Brown continues his surge and he is gaining on James Sinclair as the Catamounts best player. Still, Sinclair is the best player, but Brown has been very good as the Catamounts have surged up the standings.
Stat of the Game: Mercer made 18 of 47 from the floor in this one, just 38.3% from the field and knocked down just 3 of 18 from three. That's just 41.5 eFG%, which is not very good. The Bears have to do a better job knocking down shots to win in Asheville.
What It All Means: Oh those crazy Bears! Just when I was ready to give them full credit for their play this year, they have gone just 3-3 in their last six games. They shot poorly on Thursday night, particularly from three point range and the free throw line. They only made 15 of 26 from the free throw line. TJ Hallice was the only Bear that really played well, though Jibri Bryan may have a case that he played OK. No one else did. This was not a good performance. They have lost both games to Western Carolina and now might need to hold on to try to get the number three seed and not fall to the number four seed. They host UNCG on Saturday, which they will be heavily favored in, but have a huge game next Thursday at Chattanooga that could determine if they have any shot at the two seed. The Catamounts, who had been struggling on the road, now have won three straight road games. They did this one while shooting terribly from the free throw line (9 of 17) and with James Sinclair making just 3 of 13 from the field. That's impressive. It's hard to know if they could have done that a few weeks ago. Now, the Catamounts three games stretch against the top three teams reaches it's final game- a home date with Wofford. I said at the beginning if they won all three they would have a shot at the two or three seed. At 2-0, they can go 3-0 and really put themselves in good position for a top three seed. After Wofford and an out of conference game against Cleveland State, they host VMI and go to Furman and The Citadel. Honestly, that's a decent remaining schedule for a team looking for a big run to end the year and get the three seed. It is out there for them for sure at this point.
ETSU 65, UNCG 62
Player of the Game: Devin Harris, because he was such an unexpected source of solid play. He came up with 13 points on 5 of 9 shooting from the floor and also came up with ten rebounds. That's a double-double from a player that is averaging 6 and 5.6 on the year. He also lead the team in assists with two and had one steal as well. While Riley was a bigger scorer overall, it was Harris that made the subtle difference in this one.
Stat of the Game: ETSU had 37 rebounds, UNCG just 29. The Bucs are a much smaller team than everyone they play, and UNCG is one of the biggest in the SoCon. There is no excuse for the Spartans not to win the battle of the boards against the Bucs.
What It All Means: The Spartans are clearly playing better basketball at this point. The loss was disappointing, make no mistake. But you simply can not get outrebounded by ETSU if you are as big as UNCG is. Kayel Locke was excellent and Tevon Saddler played OK. This team fought all the way to the finish and they did not look bad despite the loss. However, the loss was very disappointing. In tiebreakers and such, this loss dropped the Spartans all the way down to last in the SoCon. Still, they are just one half game out of the final bye spot, so everything is still on the table for this club. Unfortunately, their closing kick includes trips to Mercer and Wofford and a home date with Chattanooga. This is not going to be easy to get to a bye. ETSU won in dramatic fashion and possibly saved their season. This win saves them for now. They are now up two games in the bye race, so appear to be in good shape. Still, they have just one home conference game left- Saturday against Furman. They then go to Chattanooga, The Citadel and Mercer. That's tough, but a 2-2 finish should be more than enough to get a bye. Only 1-3 could be any cause for concern. They won without Rashawn Rembert or Lester Wilson playing well- they combined for just 13 points on 4 of 18 shooting. While Jalen Riley did play well, he was hardly dominant- he scored 21 points. It really was Harris' performance that made the difference in this one.
VMI 93, Furman 59
Player of the Game: Brian Brown scored 29 points and had five rebounds. He made 9 of 14 from three point range and 10 of 16 from the floor. That was an incredible showing from Brown. He was red hot.
Stat of the Game: The Keydets made an other worldly 24 of 45 from three. It has been commonplace for them to shoot 40 or more threes and not make double digits. Thursday- 24 of them went down. Wow. How do you beat a team shooting that well? You don't- you lose by 34.
What It All Means: The Paladins did fine on the offensive end in a lot of ways. They were reasonably efficient, but things did not go well on the defensive end. Like I've said, the Keydets shooting is not necessarily dependent on the opponent's defense, but if the shots are falling. Let's just say they were falling on Thursday. Kris Acox stepped up and had a nice game and Devin Sibley was OK. Stephen Croone was OK too. The Paladins need to forget this one. It is just one game. They go to ETSU on Saturday night in a game that they may just need to be competitive in. The Keydets knocked down every shot. They could not miss. It was impossible. After struggling for months shooting, the Keydets finally knocked down some shots. Tim Marshall was also brilliant to go along with Brown. If those two continue playing like they did Thursday, the Keydets may beat all kinds of teams over the coming month. VMI goes to The Citadel on Sunday looking to beat them for the third time this year. If the Keydets come up with the win there, they will start to put themselves in decent position to get the final bye.
The Citadel 66, Samford 65
Player of the Game: Ashton Moore knocked down the game winner at the buzzer. He scored 17 points and had six assists. He also turned the ball over eight times, which was very disappointing, but he made up for all of it with his shot at the buzzer to win the game.
Stat of the Game: The Citadel knocked down 10 of 15 from three point range. That was the biggest reason they were able to hang around and let Moore knock down the jumper. The Bulldogs continue to be a deceptively efficient offense that can be difficult to stop.
What It All Means: And with one magical ending by their opponent, the Samford win streak is over. They forced turnovers and Darius Jones-Gibson played well. The missed free throw by Michael Bradley obviously really cost them. Bradley rebounded well and is a good free throw shooter, but made just one of two in the final five seconds, giving The Citadel a chance to win. The Bulldogs are still in OK position to wind up in the final bye, and still a team no one wants to play in Asheville. They go to Chattanooga on Saturday, which is going to be tough and then hosts Mercer next week, which is very difficult as well. Things are tough for Samford to get there, but they can. The Citadel desperately needed a win and they got it in the most dramatic fashion. Moore's shot was absolutely huge. The Bulldogs played just seven and five played more than 30 minutes. Jake Wright and Brian White stepped up in a big way to help the Bulldogs. That is the type of complete team performance they need to win in the SoCon Tournament. They can still get a bye. They are right in the thick of that race, despite the six game losing streak. They host VMI and go to Furman in their next two games. Those two are critical, because the Bulldogs have a brutal stretch to finish.