Wofford 74, ETSU 64
Player of the Game: Lee Skinner scored 16 points and collected ten rebounds. He has been brilliant recently for the Terriers. He made 5 of 9 from the floor and had three offensive rebounds. He did foul out. Still, Skinner's double-double was the biggest difference in this one.
Stat of the Game: Talk about a free throw fest. Wofford knocked down 29 of 43 on the night. ETSU made 18 of 25. That means Wofford took more free throws than ETSU attempted and that is significant.
What It All Means: For ETSU, they continue to be up and down, and find themselves at 6-6 in SoCon play. They did not play that well tonight. Rashawn Rembert and Jalen Riley combined for 27. Lester Wilson scored just five points. The Bucs are up just two games for the final bye spot. They may not be in trouble yet, but they have just two home SoCon games this year and four SoCon road games left. This team could fall into real trouble if they lose on Saturday at home against Samford. The Terriers are in first in the SoCon by one game over Chattanooga. They go to VMI on Saturday, and you never know if the Keydets could upset Wofford, but this team is really playing well. CJ Neumann played very well along with Skinner. Karl Cochran scored just nine points and Spencer Collins twelve. It was not a good performance by the top Terriers. But Neumann and Skinner dominated the Bucs in the paint and won the game. ETSU beat Mercer by one point and lost to Chattanooga in overtime at home. Wofford is the best team in the SoCon right now and their performance at Johnson City proves that.
UNCG 85, VMI 56
Player of the Game: Jordy Kuiper scored 12 points on 5 of 5 shooting from the floor and collected four rebounds. Kuiper played very well prior to a wrist injury that sidelined him. It could prevent Kuiper from being able to play much more this year, which is too bad because he was really coming along and developing into one of the most pleasant surprises in the SoCon.
Stat of the Game: VMI's eFG% was 27.8. That is putrid. You do not get any colder than that. The Keydets have been shooting terribly for much of the year, but when you only make 16 of 72 shots from the floor and 8 of 38 from three, you just don't win too many games. The Keydets are a team that relies on making a bunch of shots and it just hasn't been happening this year.
What It All Means: For VMI, this game represents the continued problem for this squad. They are now just 4-8 in the SoCon and almost all of that can be pinned on poor shooting. I do not care what anyone thinks about their offense- it is not good this year. They can't shoot the ball. They got 43 rebounds compared to UNCG's 56. If you can't shoot or rebound, uh-oh.The Keydets are now 1-2 on this five game homestand and have Wofford and Furman left. Furman is an absolute must win at this point. An upset of Wofford would work wonders for this squad. The Spartans have now discovered part of their identity, and strangely, they may not like it. If they play teams that are disciplined on offense (like Mercer, Wofford and The Citadel), they struggle. If they play teams that like to shoot quickly (like VMI, ETSU and even Samford), they have more success. Now, that does not necessarily guarantee wins and losses in those games, but it certainly shines a light on the teams they want to play in the SoCon Tournament. Unfortunately for them, they play at The Citadel on Saturday. They may not be able to build on this game because of the way the Bulldogs play. Of course, the Spartans are now 3-8 in the SoCon, and not completely out of the bye race. Would 7-11 be enough? Possibly. That means 4-3 the rest of the way. It's not over yet. This team is less than the sum of their parts generally, but if they put it together, who knows?
Mercer 76, The Citadel 53
Player of the Game: TJ Hallice had another very good game. He scored 16 points to lead all scorers and had two blocks. He also came up with five rebounds. Hallice made 7 of 10 shots from the floor. Hallice has been the quite leader on this team all season long, doing all the little things that help this team win and going mostly unnoticed. But Hallice is a very good player and deserves credit.
Stat of the Game: There are a ton to choose from, but how about the OR%? The Citadel came up with 10.5% OR. Mercer was at 48%. That's remarkably low for the Bulldogs and very high for Mercer. That will get you beat consistently if you are The Citadel. The Bulldogs play low possession games, and when they don't get any offensive rebounds and let their opponent get a lot, it becomes incredibly difficult for the Bulldogs to offensively efficient.
What It All Means: The Bulldogs were led by Ashton Moore, who scored 19. That is yet another conference game where Moore doesn't score 20 and the Bulldogs lose. Their offense relies so much on Moore scoring big points that it is tough for them to win. The defense is really not particularly good either, allowing Mercer to shoot 58.2% from the floor. The Citadel fell to 3-8 in SoCon play, which ties them with UNCG for ninth. The Citadel has lost five straight but host UNCG and go to Samford and then host VMI in their next three games. This is a good opportunity to end the losing streak and get back to winning. They actually can get back into the bye race if they can put a little run together here. For Mercer, they played a brilliant game at the place where Wofford lost earlier this year. Mercer did not show it on Saturday against the Terriers, but the Bears are a very efficient offensive team, and actually are not as good defensively as people think. They were back to those ways tonight. You know how UNCG is not as good as the sum of their parts? Mercer is the opposite. They are better than the sum of the parts. They are a team that is better than what they should be based on their individual players. They are actually a fun team to watch play. Mercer goes to Furman on Saturday.
Chattanooga 74, Furman 71 (OT)
Player of the Game: Justin Tuoyo remains the game changer for the Mocs. He scored 20 on 7 of 10 shooting and 6 of 6 shooting from free throw line. He came up with seven rebounds and two blocks as well. It was obvious the Mocs goal in the second half was to pound the ball inside to Tuoyo, who came up with several dunks. He changed the game on the defensive end too.
Stat of the Game: Mocs 8 turnovers. The Paladins committed thirteen in an overtime game, which is OK, but the Mocs only committed eight. That helped them to maintain possessions a little bit more frequently than the Paladins. It was those few extra shots that allowed the Mocs to be able to get to overtime.
What It All Means: The Paladins should not feel too bad about this. They beat ETSU last week at home and then lost to Chattanooga in overtime. That's two solid performances. The question really is what the Paladins do on Saturday against another top level team in Mercer. The Paladins are still in sixth, but just a half game up on Samford and VMI and one game up on UNCG and The Citadel. They are just a game and a half out of fourth place with ETSU and Western Carolina. That fourth through tenth spot is tight. The Paladins rebounded very well tonight, and Stephen Croone was dynamic, showing why he is a Player of the Year candidate. His 31 points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals were amazing. But the Mocs got the ball out of his hands or forced bad shots several times, and no one else stepped up on the offensive end for the Paladins. Kendrec Ferrara came up with seven blocked shots and was a one man wrecking crew on that end. If Ferrara can be that kind of player on the defensive end, the Paladins will be much more successful. The Mocs played their third road overtime game in five conference road games. They are now 2-1 in those games. Casey Jones made a couple of key plays at key moments. His nine rebounds and four offensive rebounds were key to the Mocs coming up with the win. Still, it was Tuoyo getting back to being Tuoyo that was the key to this one. The Mocs go to Western Carolina on Saturday in another tough road contest. The Mocs are in second in the conference, clinging to a slim lead over Mercer, and trail Wofford by just one game. The Mocs are now 9-0 against all teams in fourth through tenth place. They are 0-2 against teams in the top three.
Samford 76, Western Carolina 72
Player of the Game: Tyler Hood scored eighteen points, but forget about that. He knocked down a three with under three seconds left that took the Bulldogs from down 72-71 to up 74-72. It was a remarkably clutch shot from the corner. Hood really stepped up and delivered like one of the elder statesman on this young team should.
Stat of the Game: Samford made 23 of 29 free throws. That's 79.3%. Since Samford has been on this four game winning streak, they have knocked down a high percentage from the free throw line in every game except for against Furman, when they still hit 20 of them. The Bulldogs continue to impress.
What It All Means: The Catamounts lost a chance to go into fourth by themselves by blowing a huge lead in this one. They had the game won, it appeared, until Samford went on a run and came back. Then, the Catamounts had it won when Justin Browning made a shot and a free throw with ten seconds left to give them the 72-71 lead. But they couldn't hold onto that either. Western Carolina has the pieces to make a SoCon Tournament run, as Mike Brown and James Sinclair are becoming consistent, Torrion Brummitt is very good, Rhett Harrelson can knock down shots, and Justin Browning does a lot of the little things. But they just have not put it all together yet for some reason. They have a brutal three game stretch coming up. They host Chattanooga on Saturday, then go to Mercer next Thursday, then host Wofford on Saturday. They could be in the race for the second or third seed by the end of that, or in a position where they need to start winning again just to get a bye depending on how it goes. This is a huge stretch for them. The Bulldogs have now officially gotten back into the bye race with their fourth straight win. Still a half game out of the bye, I thought that five road games in their last seven was too much to overcome. But if you can go to Cullowhee and win, you can win anywhere in the league. They go to ETSU on Saturday and to Chattanooga next Saturday. Those are tough ones, but they may be favored in the rest of their games. This win puts them square in contention for the final bye, and with the way VMI looked against UNCG, maybe makes it a race between them and Furman. They forced 16 turnovers tonight and looked like the better team for most of night. This is not the sort of game a young team like Samford is supposed to win. When you are down that much in the second half in a place like Cullowhee, not many teams can come up with a win. Samford did it. This group may not win the SoCon this year, but they are coming and are a real threat to win the league in the coming years. What a huge win for the Bulldogs.