When a win is a win

I’ll start off by quoting…myself.  From the previous post:

I expect The Citadel to win the rematch, but it won’t be easy.  Nothing is ever easy at The Citadel.

It sure wasn’t easy; of course, the Bulldogs made it hard on themselves by playing the last 33 minutes of the game the way Elon wanted to play it.  The Citadel could have put the game out of reach early, especially against a low-scoring team that had not won on the road all season, but it wasted multiple possessions and let Elon crawl back into the contest.

Elon called a timeout at the 16:49 mark of the first half, trailing 12-2.  Over the next five minutes Elon could only muster four points, missing seven shots from the field and committing a turnover during that time.  That was when the Bulldogs should have put the Phoenix away, but over that same stretch The Citadel committed five turnovers and missed two out of three shots.

As it happened, The Citadel maintained the lead throughout the game well into the second half, leading 55-45 with 6:30 to play.  That was deceiving, however, because the Bulldogs had never been able to put any distance between themselves and the Phoenix after the initial run to start the game.  So it wasn’t a huge surprise when Elon finally put a run of its own together, and two and a half minutes later The Citadel found itself trailing for the first time.  The Bulldogs only made two more baskets (and no free throws) the rest of the game, but it was just enough to win.

Elon shot poorly for much of the game, and had almost no success running its normal offense.  The Phoenix scored mostly in transition and from the foul line.  The Citadel gave Elon a number of transition/free throw opportunities, though, by taking a lot of out-of-character shots and committing a slew of fouls (the officiating, which was somewhat inconsistent, did not help matters).

It was a very frustrating game to watch, and I kept thinking, “we’re going to get swept by Elon, and we’re better than they are.”   Then The Citadel actually won the game…

There haven’t really been too many times over the years when The Citadel has not played well and still won.  Thursday night was one of those times.  This is The Citadel we’re talking about, though, so every win is worth celebrating, no matter how ugly.

Maybe the Bulldogs were tired from playing their fourth game in eight days.  I hope not, because they’re about to play their fifth game in ten days.

The game against UNC-Greensboro on Saturday will be the eleventh game in a twenty-eight day stretch that started with a one-point escape over Bethune-Cookman.  The rest of the games have been in league play.  With a win over the Spartans, The Citadel would finish with an 8-3 record in January, with seven of those wins in conference.  However, the Bulldogs have to play better against UNCG than they did against Elon if they hope to win their fifth straight SoCon game.

The Citadel last won five consecutive league games during the 2000-01 season, which was also the last time the Bulldogs finished with a winning record in Southern Conference play.  That year The Citadel was 3-6 in the SoCon before winning five straight to move to 8-6.  It then lost once, won once, and then finished the season by losing in the first round of the conference tournament.

I could be wrong about this, but after doing some checking, I think that’s the only time in school history The Citadel has won five consecutive Southern Conference games.  That gives you a little perspective on what the team is trying to accomplish.

In the first meeting between the Spartans and Bulldogs, The Citadel pulled away early in the second half and held that lead for the remainder of the game.  UNCG never got closer than four points down the stretch, as the Spartans endured a miserable 5-29 night from beyond the arc.  The Citadel won the game despite committing 14 turnovers (in only 60 possessions), thanks to UNCG’s poor shooting and a solid shooting effort of its own (eFG of 51.3%).  This was the conference opener for both teams, and The Citadel outrebounded UNCG 37-30.  As I mentioned in the last post, John Brown did not make his conference debut until after the new year, which I think is something to consider when looking at the rebounding stats.

At the time the game was a bit of a surprise, as The Citadel won its conference opener (and on the road) after having only won one league game all season the year before.  However, as things stand today it isn’t nearly as surprising.  The Citadel has played well all year in conference action, while UNC-Greensboro is now 3-16 overall (2-8 SoCon).  Curiously, both of the Spartans’ conference victories have come away from home, including a 17-point win over Elon, so the Bulldogs have to be prepared for a team that isn’t going to roll over just because they’re on the road.

On Thursday UNCG dropped an 89-73 decision to the College of Charleston in a game in which the Cougars hit 12 first-half three-pointers en route to a 55-point half.  Ben Stywall scored 26 points in a losing cause; in the first game against The Citadel, Stywall scored six points in 36 minutes (he’s averaging 11 points per game on the season).

The Spartans are one of the nation’s poorest shooting teams (39.4 FG%) and also one of the country’s worst defensive teams (46.5%).  Defensively, the numbers for UNCG aren’t as bad defending the three, but opponents are making two-point shots at a 54.5% clip, which is atrocious.

If The Citadel stays within itself offensively (in other words, don’t play too fast), and maintains its excellent run of defending three-point shooting (a conference-best 28.3% against the 3 in league play), then the Bulldogs should win this game — and maybe make a little history in the process.

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