Samford 80, VMI 69
Player of the Game: Christen Cunningham is one of the SoCon's top freshman and scored 22 points to go along with five rebounds and four assists. He made 10 of 16 from the floor. Cunningham completely controlled the game.
Stat of the Game: VMI had 22 turnovers. Yes, the Bulldogs had a ton as well, but VMI can not turn the ball over that much and expect to win too many games. Excellent job by the Bulldogs defense in this one.
What It All Means: In some ways, VMI shot the ball well today. They did not make a bunch of threes or shoot well from the free throw line, but they shot 47.3% from the floor. The Keydets also forced 23 turnovers from the Bulldogs. It wasn't enough. They turned the ball over too much, and allowed Samford to shoot the ball really well. VMI did still get the final bye and they will wind up playing Mercer in the quarterfinals. This team is capable of beating anyone if they shoot the ball well enough, especially from three point range. Samford finally started playing like they did during their win streak. They forced a ton of turnovers, shot the ball exceptionally well, and just really played solid all around basketball. They match up with UNCG on Friday at 6:00, and if they win that, they have a date with Wofford in the quarterfinals. This team can be dangerous to anyone. Two players did account for 53.8% of their points. Tyler Hood played really well, scoring 21, to go along with Cunningham. This team will be much improved next year.
Western Carolina 67, The Citadel 54
Player of the Game: James Sinclair had 17 points, 7 rebounds, two assists, three steals and a block. He played the full 40 minutes and made 8 of 15 shots. Sinclair is the Catamounts most important player and he filled up the stat sheet on Saturday afternoon.
Stat of the Game: Western Carolina shot 58.7% from the floor and, as if trying to prove me wrong that they liked to shoot threes, shot just nine. They took the ball inside and pounded The Citadel's defense, which is ranked the worst in the country by Pomeroy. This performance came just days after not even shooting 30% in a loss to Furman.
What It All Means: For The Citadel, this loss stings a little because of the momentum they had built up by beating ETSU on Thursday. However, due to other results, they still wound up with the seven seed, which is the best they could have hoped for heading into Saturday. This team struggles defensively, and only shot 35.6% on Saturday. When those two things combine, they are not going to win too many games. Brian White and Jake Wright had solid games, but Ashton Moore was not on his game. The Bulldogs will square off with Furman at 8:30 on Friday, with the winner getting Chattanooga in the quarterfinals. Western Carolina, who had been in a bit of a free fall heading into the game as losers of three in a row, righted the ship for the moment. The win did not truly impact their seeding (they wound up the four seed, and a loss would have put them at the five seed), but it did change the feeling surrounding the team heading to Asheville. This team has made runs before in Asheville, and with shooters like Sinclair and Mike Brown, they can do it again. First, they'll have to get by ETSU in the quarterfinals, who has beaten them twice this year.
Wofford 62, Furman 60
Player of the Game: Lee Skinner had 17 points and 7 rebounds. He made 9 of 10 from the free throw line and collected four offensive rebounds.
Stat of the Game: Furman 5 of 12 from the free throw line. Wofford made 19 of 28. That fourteen free throw difference was the massive difference in this two point game.
What It All Means: For Furman, they played without an injured Stephen Croone and still lost by just two to the best team in the SoCon. Sounds interesting. In some ways, Furman has played two of their best games this week. Yes, they still finished last in the conference. But they get to play The Citadel on Friday night at 8:30 with the winner playing Chattanooga in the quarterfinals on Saturday. John Davis III played brilliantly, and Kendrec Ferrara got into double digits. There is reason for hope from this performance. Wofford did not play their best game, but having wrapped up the regular season title, there was not much to get fired up about. Were they unfocused? Hard to know. They did not shoot the ball particularly well, and they won this game the hard way. However, they got the job done and now wait the winner of UNCG and Samford in the first quarterfinal on Saturday. Hard to know if this is the beginning of another streak of Wofford playing mediocre basketball, or just a one game thing.
Mercer 69, ETSU 64
Player of the Game: Stephon Jelks. A very unexpected source has now scored 14 points in back to back games. He scored 14 and collected a team high six rebounds in this win over the Bucs. He made 5 of 11 from the floor.
Stat of the Game: ETSU made just 32.8% of their shots. This is a team that needs to be knocking down shots to win consistently and they just couldn't get it done in this one.
What It All Means: The Bucs nearly outrebounded Mercer again. Amazing. This is a small team that has rebounded with Mercer both times they have played them. Rashawn Rembert is still struggling, scoring just five points. However, Jalen Riley poured in 24 points. This ETSU team has lost three in a row, but is actually playing decently right now. They played OK in Chattanooga and now played pretty well at Mercer, leading both at halftime. They will battle Western Carolina at 2:30 on Saturday in a quarterfinal match-up. Mercer got the job done in the second half of this one and came up with the win. This win did not impact Mercer's seeding, but after losing to the Bucs in Johnson City earlier this year, the Bears wanted to come up with this one. Ike Nwamu did not play well, but Darious Moten played well and TJ Hallice put together a nice performance. The Bears will need to put together a good game on Saturday as they are squaring off with VMI in the final quarterfinal game at about 8:30. That will be a tough way to start the tournament.
Chattanooga 61, UNCG 58
Player of the Game: Who else? Rico White knocked down the clutch game winning shot. It looked like it probably should not have counted. Still he made 5 of 12 from the floor. As a senior, White really played clutch.
Stat of the Game: Spartans 13 of 27 from the free throw line. The Spartans did not even knock down 50% of their freebies. That's pretty much unacceptable, particularly in a three point game.
What It All Means: The Spartans left it all on the line in this one. Only RJ White scored in double figures. He scored 14 with 8 rebounds, three steals and four blocks. He was great. He should be getting the ball way more frequently. Still, the Spartans knocked down just 13 of 27 from the free throw line. They rebounded with the Mocs. This team is playing well and playing well enough to win several games in Asheville if they. They did not shoot well, but have gotten so much better. Asad Lamot is the only player that came off the bench for the Spartans and he scored 5 before fouling out. He played well as well. The Spartans will take on Samford at 6:00 on Friday night. The Mocs were far from perfect in this one, and even though it appears Rico White's shot should not have counted, it was a clutch shot that went down. Duke Ethridge scored ten points and had eight rebounds. They did not shoot well, especially from the free throw line. Casey Jones did not play well, but did score 12 points. They have to rebound well and protect the ball.This team can certainly win the SoCon Tournament in Asheville and are very dangerous. They have probably guaranteed that if they win the SoCon Tournament they are not a 16 seed at this point.