Western Carolina 73, Chattanooga 70
Player of the Game: James Sinclair knocked down the game winner and scored 21 points on 8 of 20 shooting. He also came up with nine rebounds. The game winner by Sinclair on a turn around fade away was almost unstoppable. He has proven to consistently be a great performer for the Catamounts.
Stat of the Game: Mocs 63% from the free throw line. They made 17 of 27 from the free throw line. While it wasn't awful, the Mocs needed to not miss ten free throws to complete the comeback in this one.
What It All Means: For the Mocs, things are not going well, but it was easy to identify this as the toughest part of the schedule. They had to go to Mercer, Furman, Western Carolina and Wofford in a five game stretch. It was easy to see them losing three during this stretch. They are 2-2 so far, with Wofford left. But the Mocs have not really looked that good recently. They are playing hard, but they are just a step behind where they were in early January at this point. Still, they seem well on their way to a top three seed. Can they get the two seed? They will need Mercer to lose some games to get there. What about the one seed? Going to be really tough, but if they beat Wofford at Wofford, they'll still have a chance. The Mocs have been starting games slow, but the improved play of Duke Ethridge and Chuck Ester should be making them feel better. Ethridge really had a good game tonight. For the Catamounts, bouncing back from the disappointing loss to Samford on Thursday and winning this one was huge. Now, Western Carolina is alone in fourth place. If the Catamounts can win their two games next week at Mercer and at home against Wofford, they will be back in the race for the two or three seed. James Sinclair made the big shot, and Mike Brown and Torrion Brummitt were huge too. Still, there were too many turnovers late in the game. Rhett Harrelson is struggling badly right now. But that is countered by the performance of Brown. The Catamounts have to be feeling good about themselves now. They are going to be a threat to any of the top teams in Asheville for sure, even though it remains unlikely that they do any better than the four seed.
Wofford 65, VMI 62
Player of the Game: Karl Cochran scored 18 points and collected 12 rebounds and came up with four steals. He made 8 of 14 from the floor. There was talk of his shooting slump. He came out today and said, "What shooting slump?" Cochran was a dominant force.
Stat of the Game: The Terriers shot 20 free throws and VMI shot just eight. That was a significant stat. The Terriers made eight more free throws than VMI and won the game by three, and that was one of the major reasons why they were able to survive this massive scare.
What It All Means: For VMI, this game showed a lot of heart and courage. After getting beaten down by 29 on Tuesday night and falling behind by 20 to the best team in the league, VMI could have packed it up and quit. Instead, they came all the way back and tied up the game and had a chance to take the lead very late in the game. Phillip Anglade may have only scored nine points, but his nine rebounds and four blocks clearly controlled the game in a lot of ways. Brian Brown, Tim Marshall and Jordan Weethee combined to make 10 of 20 from three, while the rest of the team shot 0 for 4. The Keydets are down just one game for the final bye spot still, and host Furman on Thursday night. That game may determine where this season goes from here for VMI. The Terriers have to be left with a few questions. This is the second time this season they have jumped out to a big lead on a military academy on the road only to give the whole lead back. The Terriers have struggled to consistently put complete games together. That means that anyone can beat them in Asheville. They are the team that has done the best job of surviving the scares, but they have had plenty of scares along the way. At 20-5, they have a big week ahead of them, as they host Chattanooga and go to Western Carolina. They are still very much in the discussion for an at large to the NCAA Tournament, but can afford no more slip ups until Championship Monday. That's eight more games. Do the Terriers have that in them? Cochran was great when he needed to be again tonight. Wofford did clinch a bye in the SoCon Tournament tonight.
UNCG 79, The Citadel 63
Player of the Game: Tevon Saddler scored 15 points, had five rebounds and four assists. Diante Baldwin and RJ White also were huge, but Saddler was the best player on the floor today. He made 6 of 10 from the floor.
Stat of the Game: The Citadel shot 32.7% from the floor. The Bulldogs have been shooting close to 50% from the floor for most of the season. They did not come close to that tonight, and that is why they were unable to pull this one out. Is the Spartans defense improving? This is back-to-back games of great defense and their opponents have shot a combined 26.6% from the floor.
What It All Means: The Citadel has a fatal flaw that has been exposed recently. Early in the year, they were controlling tempo, and they jumped out to 3-3 start in the SoCon. They have not done as good of a job controlling tempo since then, and have dropped six straight. That happened again tonight against the Spartans. The Citadel offense was less effective, though Ashton Moore had a great night, scoring 32 points. But on the whole, the Bulldogs did not do a good enough job offensively, and are never good enough defensively to win when their offense isn't up to par. They go to Samford next week. That may well be their last stand. They are on their way towards a last place finish in the conference if something doesn't change soon. UNCG has now proven me wrong. They have proven that they can against teams with any offensive philosophy. The Spartans played very well this week, winning two road games by an average of 22.5 points per game. They had just six turnovers tonight and ran good clean offense, shooting well over 50%, while holding The Citadel well below their season average for shooting. Hosting ETSU and going to Mercer won't be easy next week, but the Spartans are just a half game out of the final bye and just one and a half games behind ETSU at this point. Don't count them out from a bye just yet.
Samford 71, ETSU 68
Player of the Game: Marcus Johnson. He nailed the game winning three pointer to give the Bulldogs the win over the Bucs. He scored 12 points on 4 of 6 shooting from three point range. He also had five rebounds, three assists and two steals.
Stat of the Game: Samford collected just 29% of their offensive rebounding opportunities, which is not great, but ETSU collected just 10.7% of theirs. That was the major difference in this game. Samford controlled the glass and beat the Bucs because of it. The Bucs lack of size really seems to be wearing them down in general.
What It All Means: The Bucs are in real trouble. Ignore that they are currently the fifth seed. They are the team in the most danger of falling out of a first round bye. They are up a game and a half on the rest of the teams, but have now lost five out of six SoCon games. That is simply unacceptable for a team with as much talent as ETSU has. They lost on the glass, which is not surprised, because they are so much smaller than the Bulldogs. Jalen Riley and Rashawn Rembert did combine for 36 points, so that is a major step up, but blowing this twelve point lead is devastating. They go to UNCG and host Furman next week. They need to win those games if they are going to get a bye after all. For Samford, the Bulldogs were still a longshot to get a bye heading into the week because they had five of their last seven on the road, and were playing Western Carolina and ETSU on the road this week. Now at 5-8, with just three of their last five on the road, the Bulldogs can talk about earning that final bye after all, and maybe even talk about winding up the fifth seed. The Bulldogs can get that high now, as they are down just one game on ETSU. They are favored to get a bye now. This team showed so much heart coming back from big deficits in both road games. Samford hosts The Citadel and then goes to Chattanooga next week. They really just need a split next week to feel really good about their position. I think 8-10 or 9-9 gets the five seed while 7-11 or 8-10 should be enough for the six seed. At 5-8, that means 4-1 or 3-2 gives them a shot at the five seed. That really makes the home game against The Citadel critical. Christen Cunningham had an excellent game and continues to show off why he is going to be so good in the future.
Mercer 74, Furman 68
Player of the Game: TJ Hallice scored 16 points and had ten rebounds. He also had four assists and two steals. He made 6 of 9 from the floor. Hallice is really a player that holds this team together. His continued good play can not be ignored any more.
Stat of the Game: Look people. Mercer's defense gets a ton of credit, but it is really Mercer's offense that is doing the trick. The Bears committed just six turnovers tonight. They don't commit many turnovers and they play good efficient offense. With the Bears just committing six turnovers, their efficient offense was able to do their thing.
What It All Means: The Paladins were so close to two huge wins this week against Chattanooga and Mercer, but came up empty. Furman now sits a half game out of the final bye spot, but it seems much wider because of how hot Samford is. They are just a game and a half down on ETSU, though. Stephen Croone did not play particularly well, and no one really picked up the slack for him. This is the Paladins problem. They have some really good pieces, but none of them have really gelled yet. If this team puts it all together, no one will want to play them in Asheville. It may not be until then that they put it all together, but the day is probably coming. They go to VMI and ETSU next week. If they somehow won both of those, they could be back into position to earn a bye by the end of the week. Mercer continues to impress. They did not look great in the first half, but had a very good second half. Ike Nwamu and Darious Moten also had excellent games. Again, this team showed that it is a team. Their defense was OK, but not great, but their offense continued to impress. They host Western Carolina and UNCG next week. With the finishing kick of four games (at Chattanooga, at Samford, Wofford and ETSU), they really need to win both of those to get the one or the two seed. This week is critical for the Bears to keep on winning games they should be favored in.