Ballin’ in the Ballroom

The Citadel went 1-1 over the weekend in the Cancun Challenge, losing on Saturday to Central Arkansas 58-53, but then defeating Grambling State 55-41 on Sunday.  The Bulldogs are now 4-3 on the season, which is pretty good for The Citadel.  Of course, three years ago the Bulldogs started off 6-3, and then lost thirteen consecutive games…

The Citadel lost to UCA because, to put it mildly, the Bulldogs couldn’t shoot straight.  The offensive stats were brutal.  15 for 52 from the field (5-27 from beyond the arc).  18-31 from the line (4-11 in the first half), and that after having such a strong start to the season shooting free throws.  The Bulldogs only scored 19 points in the first half and never could quite catch up.  It’s hard to complete a comeback (The Citadel managed to get within two late, but UCA got it back to four almost immediately on a breakaway slam) when you’re down 10 at the break and there are only 56 possessions in the entire game.

The Citadel only committed three turnovers, and had a good rebounding effort (with lots of offensive boards; of course, you ought to get a lot of offensive rebounds when you miss that many shots).  The defensive stats weren’t great, although they weren’t terrible either.  The Citadel just couldn’t put the ball in the basket, from anywhere on the court.  Maybe the chandeliers distracted the players.

That’s right, chandeliers.  The tournament games were played in a second-floor ballroom with seats for 400 spectators (not that the place was full).  Neither of The Citadel’s games was televised, but I did watch part of another Cancun Challenge game, Drake-New Mexico, which on Sunday night was broadcast on CBS College Sports TV.  It was a rather unusual venue for a basketball game, although not quite at the level of claustrophobic hilarity that defined Deas Hall (the east coast “Thunderdome” is probably my favorite place to have witnessed college hoops, even if it was just a one-season wonder).  While watching the Drake-UNM matchup on TV, I felt strangely disappointed that there weren’t a bunch of different-colored painted lines snaking around and through the court.

The Citadel would rebound from the tough loss to Central Arkansas the next day, beating Grambling in a solid performance.  The game was close until late in the first half, when the Bulldogs went on a 14-3 run over the final 3:23 to take a 10-point lead into the break.  Grambling would not get within nine points for the remainder of the game.  Fans watching this game could have been justified in taking a nap during the second half once the Bulldogs had established their lead, considering the contest’s glacial pace (54 possessions for each team).  The Citadel had its best statistical performance of the season to date defensively, as the Tigers only shot 37% from the field, collected only two offensive rebounds, and turned the ball over 12 times.

Grambling had beaten Morehead State the night before by one point on a last-second tip-in; you have to wonder how much the Tigers had left in the tank for this game.  Of course, The Citadel had played a hard-fought game of its own on Saturday as well.

The Bulldogs got solid contributions from Zach Urbanus (15 points to lead all scorers) and Cameron Wells (the 6’1″ guard grabbed 14 of The Citadel’s 27 total rebounds, and added 10 points of his own).  The offensive efficiency wasn’t bad at all, although The Citadel only shot four free throws in the entire game.  The Bulldogs more than compensated for that by going 12-26 from 3-land, with Urbanus making five from long range and Austin Dahn adding three more.

The other interesting thing about this game from The Citadel’s perspective was that freshman Matt Roberts started instead of Demetrius Nelson.  Roberts only played eight minutes, though, while Nelson played 20, slighly under his average.  That might be something to watch, or it may have just been an experiment.  Maybe Nelson started gazing too intently at the chandeliers before the game started and got dizzy.

All in all, I think Ed Conroy and company are probably satisfied with what they got out of the Cancun Challenge — namely, a nice Thanksgiving weekend trip to a resort, and a chance to play two extra non-conference games, both of which were competitive (instead of one-sided affairs on the winning or losing side) before starting the conference season.  The Bulldogs start that conference season on Thursday night against UNC-Greensboro, the first of two road games in three days (The Citadel travels to Elon on Saturday).  The Bulldogs now have as many victories against Division I opposition as they did all of last season.  Now it’s time to see if this week they can match or exceed their number of conference wins from all of last year (one).

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