A big win, but don’t get carried away just yet

Let’s start this column with the newest installment of the “Milestone Report”, chronicling just a few of the latest firsts, streaks, and records set by this season’s edition of the basketball Bulldogs:

  • The Citadel’s 18th win on the season tied the 1985 squad for second-most in school history, with only the 1979 team winning more games (20)
  • The Citadel continues to set a new school standard for Southern Conference victories with its 13th league win of the season, and extends its record run of SoCon road wins (the Bulldogs are now 7-2 on the road in conference play)
  • With that 13th win, the Bulldogs shattered an 82-year-old SoCon record, the mark for biggest league turnaround in consecutive seasons, which had been established by Auburn in 1927; the Tigers went from one conference victory to twelve that season, while The Citadel has gone from one win to thirteen (and counting)
  • The Citadel broke a 14-game losing streak to Davidson
  • The Citadel won for the first time at Davidson since a 1990 contest, a game played during a brief four-year period (1989-1993) when the Wildcats were not in the Southern Conference; as a result, Wednesday night’s victory was the first time The Citadel had won a league game at Davidson since 1961

Davidson entered the game with an RPI of 49.  The Wildcats have dropped out of the top 50 of the RPI following the loss to The Citadel (as of Thursday the Wildcats are at 56), but will almost certainly finish the season in the top 100.  To be honest, I am not completely sure when the Bulldogs last recorded a victory over a “Top 100 RPI” team.  I believe that it has not happened since 1989, when The Citadel beat South Carolina.

Incidentally, The Citadel’s RPI has jumped up to 148 (I’m using ESPN’s RPI numbers).  The Bulldogs are one spot ahead of none other than VMI. 

Of course, Davidson didn’t have Stephen Curry last night, and that certainly made a difference.  Whether it made enough of a difference to have changed the outcome of the game is debatable.  In the first game between the two teams, Curry put up 32 points (with only 16 FG attempts) and added five assists  — one assist more than Davidson had as a team last night.  Even if you didn’t count Curry’s shooting numbers, though, Davidson still had a good FG% as a team in the game at McAlister Field House (although obviously with teams having to concentrate on Curry, his teammates have better opportunities).

The Citadel and Davidson are 1-2 in the league in FG% defense (the Wildcats lead that category) and in 3FG% defense (with the Bulldogs ranked first).  Given that, it’s not surprising that the game featured poor shooting by both teams, and without its star, Davidson never got into a shooting rhythm.  The Wildcats could not even make free throws (9-17 for a team that averages 71% from the line).

What should concern Davidson more than the bad shooting, though, was the fact that the Wildcats were not able to contain the Bulldogs on the boards.  The Citadel had a season-high 48 rebounds last night to Davidson’s 31 (after Davidson won the rebounding battle 35-25 in the first matchup).  Demetrius Nelson had a big night scoring inside, but he had scored 18 points in the first game, so that wasn’t a major surprise.  The difference was that he also added 14 rebounds (after only having 4 against Davidson at McAlister) to the Bulldogs’ cause. 

Davidson did have 13 offensive rebounds, but when you miss 73% of your shots from the field, you’re going to get more opportunities for boards on the offensive end of the floor. 

John Brown had 12 rebounds in 22 minutes of action.  That’s the fifth time this season he’s had 12 boards in a game (he’s now hit that mark three times in a row).  Brown has played more than 20 minutes in ten games this season.  He has had double digit rebound totals in seven of them (and nine boards in of one of the others).  That’s not even counting his 12-boards-in-15-minutes performance against Samford.  Brown is averaging 13.47 rebounds per 40 minutes of play (14.75 per 40 over his last four games).  When he stays out of early foul trouble, he is a force. 

Davidson leads the league in turnovers forced, and The Citadel committed a few too many last night (13).  The Bulldogs had 19 turnovers in the first matchup, so they improved a little, but again Curry’s absence has to be considered (he had five steals in the January game).  On the flip side, despite missing its point guard, Davidson only committed seven turnovers.

Nelson missed five free throws, the only blip in an outstanding effort.  Cameron Wells was 8-8 from the charity stripe, though, which alleviated an off-shooting night for him from the field.

Everyone who has been following the Bulldogs is excited right now, and deservedly so, but I want to sound a note of caution.  I mentioned earlier in this post that the last time The Citadel won a road game against a top-100 opponent was against South Carolina in 1989.  That year had some parallels to this season. 

In 1989, The Citadel was trying to rebound from an 8-20 campaign.  The team started the year slowly, but gradually improved.  The win over the Gamecocks was the exclamation point on a run during which the Bulldogs won six out of seven games, including a beatdown of longtime hoops bully Marshall (the final game ever played at Deas Hall, the most fantastic Division I basketball arena in human history).  Earlier in the year The Citadel had also beaten the College of Charleston on the road, which would be the last win at the CofC for the Bulldogs until this season.  With two games remaining in the regular season, the Bulldogs were in a position to claim second place in the SoCon regular season, with an outside shot at first.

The Citadel wouldn’t win another game.  The Bulldogs lost a tight game on the road to Western Carolina, then lost at UT-Chattanooga, and then lost in the first round of the Southern Conference tournament to East Tennessee State (which would then proceed to win the tourney).

I’m not saying we’re in for a repeat of 1989.  For one thing, this year’s team is simply better.  You can ask Ed Conroy — after all, he played on the 1989 team.  It’s just that there is still work to be done this season, and to consolidate all the gains made on the court this year, the team needs to finish strong.  Also, while I don’t want to be perceived as being overly pessimistic, I think it’s important to acknowledge that the margin of error for the program is still small.  It’s not as small as it has been, though, and that’s a credit to Conroy and the players. 

The Southern Conference tournament is going to be tough for everybody.  If you’re The Citadel, you have to worry about Davidson (with Curry), UT-Chattanooga (a good team, and the tourney host), the College of Charleston (can the Bulldogs really beat that team three times in a row?), and a bunch of other squads that could pose matchup problems.  Drawing Elon or Appalachian State in the tourney would not be fun. 

Of course, those teams have to worry about drawing The Citadel…

That’s why getting the bye is so important.  Speaking of that, the “magic number” for The Citadel to clinch a bye in the tournament is now 2.  For those unfamiliar with the “magic number” concept (it’s a baseball expression), what that means is any combination of two Bulldog victories or College of Charleston losses will guarantee a bye for The Citadel.  Two Bulldog wins would do it, as would two CofC losses.  One Bulldog win and one Cougar loss would be enough.  The CofC has four games remaining, and The Citadel has three.

The Citadel now has eight days before its next game.  I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.  I’m inclined to think it’s a good thing, because the Bulldogs probably need a bit of a break.  There is always the fear that the team will lose momentum, but I believe it helps that when they play again, it will be at home before what should be a very good crowd.  I can’t wait.

Quick note:  I’ve had a few more visitors to the blog than normal; I’m glad some of you have enjoyed it.  To answer a couple of questions that have been asked:

  • The photos at the top are of General, Anthony Jenkins, and Jack Douglas, as most fans of The Citadel know.  I don’t really have a lot of pictures from sporting events involving The Citadel; the shots of Jenkins and Douglas are scanned newspaper photos, and I struggled to get a decent scan of them (as you can probably tell)
  • The blog is intended to be a general sports blog with an emphasis on the mighty Bulldogs; I’ve actually focused a little more on The Citadel’s athletic teams than I had originally anticipated (mainly because of the hoopsters, although I am more than ready for Fred Jordan’s crew to take the field)

2 Responses

  1. Don’t worry, The Citadel stuff hasn’t driven me away yet.

  2. Excellent post, again. The P&C needs to consider you if Hartsell ever moves on.! BTW- thanks for the response on the picture. I have the old video of the game somewhere, but it seems like all the major newspapers in the state back when we beat the Cocks took a hiatus on taking pictures! I have been looking for decent action shots from that game for years. I suspect our own athletic department might well have most of the few existing ones.

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