I could get used to rooting for a winning hoops team

The Citadel 72, College of Charleston 63.  Whoa.

Even better, it was broadcast to a regional audience by SportSouth, with the legendary Whit Watson on play-by-play (plus shiny-domed analyst Nate Ross — I remember when Nate actually had some hair).  The Citadel doesn’t play too many televised basketball games (this was the last of three such appearances this season, not counting any potential SoCon tourney games).  Playing well and actually winning a TV game — well, that’s even more unusual.

First, the atmosphere.  From my vantage point in front of my TV (and by the way, it’s time for SportSouth to go all-HD all the time; I want to see my team play in crystal-clear high definition when it’s on the tube), the crowd seemed reasonably energetic, but a little cautious.  The corps looked okay, but I think it needed to be a bit more raucous.  (I do want a “McAlister Maniacs” t-shirt, though.  They didn’t have those back in the Dark Ages when I was in school.)  5107 is about the number of people I expected at the game.

In the game story in The Post and Courier, you’re going to read a lot of good things said about John Brown.  If you watched the game on TV, you listened to Nate Ross extol Brown’s virtues throughout the broadcast.  All of the accolades are completely justified.

Now, Brown does not appear to have any go-to offensive moves other than layups and dunks.  He’s only 6’4″.  He desperately needs a nickname.  However, he demonstrates that it’s possible for a player to have a huge effect on a game without being a scorer or what the late, great Al McGuire called an “aircraft carrier”.

Brown may not be that tall (although he has long arms), and he may not be that polished an offensive player, but he is an instinctive rebounder and defender, and an all-around hustler extraordinaire.  He finished with nine points (layups, dunks, a free throw), three steals (and numerous deflections), and twelve rebounds, with a lot of his boardwork coming during the critical stretch in the first half  when The Citadel built its lead (a 12-0 run).  I guess you could say it was a Rodmanesque performance, but that’s a description that doesn’t really work at The Citadel (and it’s hard to imagine Brown with dyed hair or wearing a dress).

Brown wasn’t the only Bulldog to have a good game.  Cosmo Morabbi continued his good run at three-point marksmanship.  Zach Urbanus had another solid day distributing the ball and making open shots from beyond the arc.  Five different Bulldogs made three-pointers, including two that I thought were bigger than “normal” made threes — Cameron Wells’ shot to tie the game at 10 when The Citadel was struggling to put the ball in the basket (despite getting good looks), and Austin Dahn’s second-half three under pressure from his defender and the shot clock, which effectively stopped a would-be College of Charleston rally.

Basically, it was a well-played game for The Citadel from about every vantage point.  When you shoot 8-15 from three and commit only eight turnovers against a pressing team, you’re probably going to have a good night.  The Bulldogs kept the possession total where they wanted it (63) and did a very good job of defending, leading to the Cougars’ poor shooting night (preventing transition baskets by avoiding turnovers and forced shots on the offensive end contributed to the College of Charleston’s offensive woes).

The negatives?  Free throw shooting (only 12-19; in particular, Bryan Streeter is struggling right now from the charity stripe) and (to a lesser extent) rebounding, for despite Brown’s prowess on the glass (which included five offensive boards), The Citadel was decisively outrebounded, although part of that is reflected by the CofC having more opportunities at offensive boards because it missed so many shots.  (It also reflects a fine effort in a losing cause by the Cougars’ Jermaine Johnson.)

I’m glad to see Demetrius Nelson finally get a win against the Cougars.  His coach can relate to waiting until his last season to beat the College of Charleston…

Speaking of Ed Conroy, the team looked well-prepared for the Cougar press.  The Citadel again had success with inbounds plays under the basket (this time Brown actually made the dunk).  I thought Conroy did a good job calling timeouts when appropriate.  I also noticed that for this game he shortened his rotation.  In past games he hasn’t hesitated to play eleven or twelve guys in a game (that’s not counting the standard clear-the-bench routine at the end of blowouts; fourteen players actually saw action against Western Carolina).  I think this game’s eight-man rotation tells you all you need to know about who he thinks is ready for big games against good, athletic teams.  Some of the underclassmen who didn’t play yesterday are going to be major contributors down the road, but aren’t quite ready yet for these types of games.

Against the College of Charleston, Conroy played three guys at two frontcourt spots (Nelson, Streeter, and Brown), rotating them accordingly, and played five guys in a three-guard setup, with Urbanus and Wells playing most of the game, and Morabbi and Dahn essentially splitting time at the other spot.  Jonathan Brick got a few minutes as well, long enough to sink a why-are-you-shooting-oh-that’s-why three-pointer.

The players don’t have much time to celebrate, though.  Monday night, the Bulldogs will play at Samford.  This is Samford’s first season in the SoCon, and the Birmingham Bulldogs have been very competitive, perhaps more competitive than expected.  Jimmy Tillette’s squad is, like The Citadel, 5-4 in the league, and has won four straight games.  Samford runs a “Princeton-style” offense and as such averages less than 60 possessions per game, which worries me a little, because the only time this season the Bulldogs faced an opponent that played an offensive style that was demonstrably “slower” than that of The Citadel was against Iowa.  In that game, the Bulldogs seemed to force the action too much and paid for it.  Samford spreads the wealth (no player averages more than 12.4 points per game, nor does any player average 30 minutes per game of playing time) and is a fairly good shooting team.  Samford has improved its turnover rate in conference play (the difference in turnovers in and out of conference is marked).

Defensively, Samford  employs a matchup zone.  This brings up the Birmingham Bulldogs’ greatest weakness, namely that they are a poor rebounding team without much in the way of a post presence.  The Citadel needs to be patient on offense, work to establish an inside game, and then hit open three-pointers.  Of course, you could say that about a lot of games.  The Citadel needs to emphasize (even more than usual) crashing the boards in this game.

On defense The Citadel must watch for backdoor cuts, of course, and be prepared to play defense for 35 seconds at a time.  How well is Samford’s offense working right now?  In three of its last four games Samford has recorded at least 17 assists, especially impressive when you consider that in those four games Samford averaged less than 25 made field goals per game.

We’ll see which team maintains its momentum on Monday night.

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